This week was very focussed on silver and the various techniques used in construction and finishing silver jewellery, however we did have a bit of light relief mid-week with some wire wrapping and polymer clay.
Polymer clay is really fun and I have worked with it a lot before. It’s really great for bringing colour, pattern and texture to your work, and it’s very versatile. It can even be made to look like natural stone and wood. It’s also quite therapeutic working the clay to make it as malleable as possible before shaping it.
There were two days this week that were like master class workshops. The first one was all to do with piercing, polishing and finishing silver (although we did all our samples on copper as sheet silver is a bit expensive for practising on!) which included cutting out a shape and sanding and polishing both by hand and with various machinery. It was pretty fun to have a go on all the machinery, although I think some of it would be fairly impractical to have in a home workshop! We also had a go at something called reticulation. This creates a natural textured surface by repeatedly melting and cooling the metal. It’s really unpredictable and there is very little control over how it will turn out, I might have pushed mine a bit far and there may have been a bit too much melting going on!
The second master class was all to do with soldering. We started with sweat soldering, which is joining two flat surfaces together and moved on to attaching smaller parts like wire, making a chain and lastly creating a 3D shape. It was hot work using the blowtorch and required a lot of concentration ensuring the pieces were held in the correct place and that the solder didn’t jump around once the metal started to heat up and it flowed in the right direction once it melted so that the join was strong and the two parts were held together securely. I liked soldering and can definitely see myself using it in my future work. I particularly liked the idea of making chains because I won’t then be constrained by standard chain links, I can make them any shape I like and they can become part of the design.
The last day this week was intermediate silver. There was no structure for this day, we just had to use the techniques we had learnt earlier in the week, plus what we did in beginner’s silver to design and make a piece on our own. There were some criteria we had to fulfil for the course, which was piercing, soldering and shaping. I managed to include all of these in my design, but I’m not sure it’s something I would necessarily have designed without that criteria.
Several of our teachers so far have said that silver jewellers seem to sit in two camps, silversmithing or metal clay. There is some cross over but people mainly work in one or the other and there is some snobbery involved as metal clay is a very new product. From my experience so far I think I am far more in the metal clay camp, however I am pleased I have had the opportunity to try out all the silver work as I think they are important skills to have whatever material you work in as, along with the wire wrapping we did in the first week, they are the basics of jewellery construction.
There is no silver next week! We have a really varied week coming up including technical drawing, resin and a school trip! We are off to the V&A museum to get some inspiration and look at the history of jewellery.
Second week down and here we are on Sunday night ready for week three!
Week two has been all about silver. Three days of metal clay learning more techniques; stone setting, beads and rings. The stone setting day definitely required the most concentration. The first project was creating a setting for a glass cabochon. This had to be done early as the glass cannot be heated too quickly or cooled too quickly otherwise it can be damaged. We set a cubic zirconia gemstone into dry clay by drilling a hole with a specially shaped drill into the dry clay and then placing the stone in before firing the piece. The hardest project of the day was setting a fine silver bezel into the clay to hold a natural gemstone. This was difficult because there was a risk of melting the silver bezel when firing the rest of the clay. However I managed it without any disasters and was really pleased with the result.
On Thursday we had a day of fashion jewellery. This really broke up the week and made me think about the design process and where trends come from, how far in advance they are set and designers’ start working on their collections before they actually start to appear in the shops. We made mood boards based on trends we found in popular magazines and from this had a think about who our customer would be and began to sketch some designs based around this. In the afternoon we then produced a piece of jewellery and I made a ring using leather, a material I never thought I would use! I’m not sure it is a material I would choose to work with on a regular basis, but it was great to get to try it out.
Friday was my first taste of working with sheet silver. It’s a lot more of a physical process than the metal clay. We added designs using a roller to press patterned brass sheets into the silver to leave an impression and used a mallet and stamps to add symbols and letters. We also used various hammers to add textures. Once we had the design we wanted we cut out the shape of the piece with a piercing saw and then filed, sanded and polished it to create a smooth finish. Once we had made the first project, a pendant, we moved on to a ring and added soldering to the list of new techniques. Soldering was tricky but I managed it and am so proud of the result. I can’t wait to have another go!
More silver work, but also back to wirework and a day of polymer clay coming up this week.
I can’t believe week one is over already! It’s been such a busy week and I already feel like I’ve learnt so much. The main thing I’ve learnt is that I’m definitely out of practice using my brain, I’m exhausted!
The first two days were beading and wirework. Although I have mainly worked in this way previously it was good to go over the basics again as this is the foundation of jewellery construction. It’s a really fast way of working and it felt like we made so many pieces; earrings, bracelets, necklaces and even rings all out of beads and wire.
Day three was jewellery design. We started by looking at jewellery and thinking about the look and feel of it and how we would describe the pieces. Doing this we began to build up a vocabulary of words to do with form, style, materials, technique and theme and get a good idea of what we liked and what we didn’t. We then began to think about our own designs and were taken step by step through the process of designing. We created mood boards to give a feel for the colours, patterns and textures we were drawn to and then went out into the street with our sketchbooks to find inspiration in the world around us and to enable us to start work designing our own collections. I really enjoyed going through this process as it helped me think clearly about what I want to make and what my natural style might be.
On days four and five we made a start on metal clay. Such a fun material! It is clay infused with silver particles so when you fire it the clay burns away to leave a pure silver piece. It means you can be so creative with the way you work because you can sculpt the clay into any shape you like. We learned several techniques including stone setting into wet clay, mould making and adding gold.
With six weeks to go I feel like we are only at the tip of the iceberg, even though my head feels crammed full of new knowledge already! The week coming up is three more days of metal clay followed by fashion jewellery and then we will be beginning silver, something that I know everyone in the class is keen to start.
The other students in my class are lovely and come from really diverse backgrounds. I think that by doing the intensive course rather than the one spanning a year I have met people who are very likeminded to me, who are focused and serious about starting their own businesses and are interested and excited by the making process. This shared mind-set will help to drive the class and push us to achieve as much as we can in the time we have.
Roll on week two…
A wise friend once told me that the key to living your dream is to decide what it is you want and then break it down into small easy steps to achieve it. I decided that my dream is to work for myself, making jewellery and being creative every day and so I’ve taken the first and very scary step to achieving that dream…quitting my job!
Next week I am starting a diploma in Creative Jewellery at the London Jewellery School. I have done several courses with them before and am excited to be embarking on this new adventure with them. One of the most appealing things for me is getting back to studying. I can’t wait to learn all the amazing techniques and find out what I enjoy and want to specialise in.
I have been making jewellery for several years now and mainly work with wire and polymer clay, but I’m hoping this course will help me to expand my skills and hopefully make some really interesting and creative jewellery.
One of the things I found the most daunting about leaving a full time job was the worry of being lonely. Working for myself means working by myself without the company of other people to bounce ideas off and hold me to deadlines. I’m hoping that I’m going to meet some great, new, like-minded friends through my course, but I will miss the amazing people I’ve worked with for the last few years. I think that the fear of loneliness will be a great motivator to go out and network with other jewellers, small business owners and entrepreneurs.
I realise there is so much to think about when starting your own business, all kinds of admin hoops I will have to jump through and various other obstacles ahead of me but I feel ready and determined to tackle it all. I’m hoping to keep a record of my progress by posting on here each week, taking a look back at what I’ve done that week and looking forward to the week ahead. I hope you will enjoy my journey with me!
Jewellery enthusiast embarking on an exciting new adventure to set up my own business.