Three questions for three jewellers
As the oldest contemporary jewellery gallery in New Zealand, Fingers Gallery has been a landmark establishment of the Auckland studio craft scene for over 40 years. Last year, Auckland Museum acquired a large collection of jewellery that reveals the skill and inventiveness of the jewellers who have been associated with Fingers. I recently talked to three of these jewellers about their creative processes.
How was the necklace made?
Silicone starts off as a fluid which I mix together, add colour pigments and either squash between two boards one ice block stick thick or inject into vinyl hose. This neckpiece is a mixture of two processes that I had invented several years before making this piece. It is a nice collision of craziness. It also glows at night making it extra special after dark.
What appeals to you about working with silicone?
I discovered silicone at art school when we were learning to make moulds for casting. I was making alien creatures at the time and the floppiness and wobbliness of silicone suited my otherness context perfectly. Its inherent tactility and playfulness easily attracted the attention of viewers encouraging conversations between strangers. Silicone and I are taking a holiday from each other at the moment. I have recently been experimenting with silver as a fluid and making jewellery with videos and snow.
What response have you had from wearers of your jewellery?
This necklace and its alter ego brooch series are particularly loved by wearers. When wearing a floppy poppies brooch to an opening at Fingers I observed two elderly customers bouncing up and down hoping that I would bounce up and down to make my poppies wobble some more. One of the best interactions I observed was when I wore this piece to our local fruit shop. The lady at the checkout - who was always grumpy - cracked a smile as she watched the winkles wobbling. It might be just my imagination, but I am pretty sure she has been happier ever since that day.
What does Dendrochronology mean?
It’s the study of tree rings with regards to age, so each subsequent ring in a tree is a marker of time. It was an anniversary show that the piece was made for – Workshop6’s 15th anniversary – so if you count the rings outwards, there are 15.
What are some the techniques you used to make the brooch?
It involved punching out discs from silver and doming them, and then soldering them all together in an incredibly repetitive way – there were a lot of discs in that piece so it took me nearly a month to make it. That’s how the piece evolved, and that’s how I work with most of my jewellery – I let the shape be dictated by how it’s pulled and pushed around during soldering so it achieves a more organic shape – it grows in a natural sense. I started from the centre, and then it started to get a bit wobbly and that wobble gets exaggerated. It’s a controlled way of mimicking nature.
What do you have to consider when thinking about how someone would wear the brooch?
Well, it’s quite a significant piece to wear, it wouldn’t be an everyday brooch. There’s a double pin to hold it to the clothing - it’s a heavy piece, so the wearer would have to make that decision.
What are your design influences?
Arabesques, mandalas, and looking at flower references from nature. I take a lot of my own photos and I pick flowers out of the garden. And I look at other people’s interpretations – old reference books of plants, botanical drawings. When I was travelling around India I was interested in the representation of the radially symmetrical flower motif that popped up again and again in the carvings and the relief work.
How do you ensure the technical precision of the design?
The drawings are all done by hand. I do use the computer as well but I always start on paper because the way I think, and the way my thoughts flow, goes a lot more smoothly if I’ve got the pencil in my hand. I start by doing a really basic thumbnail sketch, and then when I’ve chosen the one I want I draw it out with a compass, draw the lines and do a freehand [sketch] with a grid.... I find that feeds quite well into how the work is done because they’re not laser cut – I’m not giving a computer file to somebody to cut them for me – I’m hand-cutting them. And I notice that even when they do look quite perfect, there are little irregularities and you can still see that somebody’s done it by hand.
What are some the techniques that you use to make this brooch?
I hand-cut the first one, and then I cast it [to create all seven brooches in the series], simply because I was doing a repeat and to cut one takes 14-16 hours as there’s a lot of detail. But then the casting doesn’t come back completely perfect, so I get in [with the saw] and I cut all the little casting imperfections off and then thin it right down to a wafer… It’s so thin, it’s like a piece of paper, this sliver of metal, and I solder that down [on to the base layer] which is quite difficult. Then the enamel colours are ground, rinsed and painted on by hand. I dry it, and it goes into the kiln for firing. It’s fired 5 times. You paint on a thin layer of enamel, which looks like wet sand; dry it; fire it. Pull it out, do another layer. It’s fired in five layers, because if you do one really thick layer it will pop off – you need to build it up gradually. And then lots of stoning back and sanding. So there’s lots of hand work that goes into it: lots of piercing in the beginning; lots of hand-painting; and lots of grinding back to get it smooth and even.
Text from Anna Wallis and Jasmine Watson has been abbreviated from conversations with the author.
Post by: Jane Groufsky
Jane Groufsky is the Associate Curator Applied Arts & Design. She has an interest in printing and patternmaking techniques in textiles.