Sometimes I’m asked how I go about starting a project, or about the processes and techniques I use to create my work. So, as I’m just about to start a new commission (and as February has been short on news and big on tedious application forms) I thought I’d have a go at detailing my practice… Here goes!
I was asked to design a brooch for a client who has recently left London and moved to the beautiful Suffolk coast. The first thing I do whenever I’m given a brief is to spend some time gathering visual research for a mood board – photos, images, textures and colours which evoke a mood or feeling, or represent a particular form or surface finish I would like to emulate in the piece. I try to keep the client in mind at all times. When I feel I’ve collected enough, I refine my selection and piece all the imagery together. A portion of my mood board for this project can be seen behind the text to the left – it focuses on the panoramas of the coast line; the brackens, reeds and dunes, and the subtle but dramatic textures and colours of the sand, sea and sky in that part of the country.
Next comes the most difficult part: translating the imagery into workable designs. This usually involves lots and lots of doodles, re-workings, discarded ideas, and a fair amount of frustration and dismay! But it’s exciting and rewarding none the less. I sent my client three different options to choose from, along with the mood board. Below is the first-stage drawing for the option the client selected (I won’t show the others here), outlining front, back and perspective views with notes and a small painted illustration. Sadly, my handwriting will never be as neat as my drawing!
Once the design had been approved, it was time to get down to the nitty gritty of scale, measurements and models. Things tend to look different when you pick them up and hold them against the body, and different again when translated in to three dimensions, so I like to play around with paper versions as much as possible. I also make rough maquettes in base metals and other materials in order to test the look and feel, and sometimes just to check if an idea is physically possible!
The maquette below is made from brass, some ends of silver from my scrap box, and some modelling clay painted with white acrylic and crosshatched with a biro. It might not look pretty but it’s a good way to get to grips with a design – after all, mistakes are expensive when you’re working in precious metals…
Next it was time to source the centre stone. This was quite a tricky task for such a large piece. The original drawing had featured a piece of reticulated quartz – a rare type of quartz in which needles of tourmaline form an amazing cross-hatched pattern. I had my eye on a particular piece, but sadly it sold before I could get my hands on it – such a shame! These things happen with gemstones. However, I did manage to hunt down a very beautiful (and large) piece of dendritic quartz, which has equally fascinating inclusions in fractal patterns, resembling graceful fronds of seaweed… Below is the stone which will feature in the brooch.
It will need to be cut down to the right size and shape for the central setting. Before taking it to be cut, I made yet another model (this time of just the setting itself) to help me determine exactly the right dimensions for the stone. In the photos below, you can see the box-like frame in to which the stone will be placed from behind (imaginatively called ‘back-setting’), as well as the decorative pierced back-plate which will hold the stone in place when secured.
This time the craftsmanship is a little more accurate. Although the ‘stone’ is equally strange – a cut down eraser with marker pen inclusions! The backplate, although in scrap copper here, will be made in white gold on the actual brooch to match the setting.
Now it was time to work out which section of the stone I wanted to use…
….and to whip up a technical drawing to take to the stone cutter. It’s important to be as clear as possible with something when there’s only one shot at it.
Yet more drawings helped me figure out the lengths of wire and the thickness of the sheet, but choosing the colours was much more fun. My client prefers white metals usually, so I’ve decided to make the main body of the brooch (frame and setting) in 9 carat white gold, which has a lovely soft colour – warmer than silver and paler than 18 carat white gold which tends to have a greyish, gunmetal hue. The ‘reeds’ which overlay the stone will be picked out in 18 carat yellow and 18 carat red gold. The addition of red gold was a late decision, made upon seeing how beautifully the three colours compliment each other.
So, (with the addition of some solder) I now have all my materials, and it’s time to get to work at the bench! The little squares and coils below don’t look like much at the moment, but this how all pieces start their life…
Check back in a few weeks to see how it’s coming along.