Journey to becoming a silversmith
I wouldn’t say I became a silversmith by accident but it was never something I set out to be. Metalwork was a part of the degree course I took at Manchester. I went to college wanting to learn to make furniture but soon realised I was more interested in metal and so stuck with it. When I left college I made jewellery rather than silver. The silversmithing training at college was basic and so I don’t think I really knew that I wanted to be a silversmith. It was only with increasing frustration with the jewellery that I decided to go bigger.
Oddly enough I do remember having seen a television programme about a silversmith when I was a child, and being fascinated by the idea that something could be made from a flat sheet of silver. Then I noticed a “Jeweller and Silversmith” shop that we used to drive past on the way to school, and wondered what actually went on inside. Of course I never went in to find out, but maybe that is where it all started really.
I find inspiration quite a difficult subject to get straight in my mind. I can think of lots of things that influence what I make and how I make it but “inspire” is a very big word. Things that I respond to and which influence me include pattern, drawing, fossils, textiles, fabric, form. Of course the work of other metalworkers would also be an influence. I can’t deny that Japanese metalwork, new and old, is something to which I am always drawn. The interest lies not only in the finished objects but also some of the techniques and the skill with which they are used.
In fact, now I think of it, it is perhaps the work of other makers that I do find inspirational. The more I have learned about how things are made, and the more time I have spent trying to make things well, the more I respect and admire the skill needed to make the very best work. So I suppose if I were to choose one thing that inspires me it would be craftsmanship.
The appeal of making things for me has always been just that….making things. Unfortunately making things manually is not always the most efficient method but I try to ignore that whenever I can. For example I will always try to raise something instead of having it spun, unless time or budget absolutely prevent it.
For quite a long time now the technique that takes up most of my time is engraving and carving. Engraving always appealed to me and yet it is not something that is ever really taught in the mainstream. And so when I designed something that needed to be engraved, I had to learn for myself how to do it. Engraving is very versatile and can be used in lots of ways. It can be straight forward drawing on the metal, it can be bright cut to give the very best effect from an engraved line, or it can be matted back to strengthen the appearance of more three dimensional carving.
A lot of the work I have made in the past has been carved in low relief using flower and leaf motifs, but just lately I have moved away from that slightly, and have started to use textures as much as depth. Pictorial engraving often involves cutting lines at different angles to each other in order to catch the light differently to produce an image. I am using that in the simplest way possible by cutting areas of marks at right angles to each other trying to reproduce the appearance of damask fabric. It is actually working quite well and when it is used as a background to areas which are either left plain or carved, it is very effective.
Recently I have started to use inlays that stand proud of the surface to give depth, instead of carving into the metal. It has the appearance of pieces being applied to the surface, but without the technical issues of soldering and the resulting cleaning up. Inlay is often used to add a differently coloured detail to a piece but I have been inlaying silver into silver with the odd piece of gold as a highlight. It is actually quite subtle for me.
I have lots of favourite pieces. Usually it is the last piece I made that worked well. I made a tea pot for an exhibition at the Goldsmiths’ Hall in 1998 which I have repeated several times since, and that is one of my favourites. It was one of the first pieces I engraved with chrysanthemums, I also made a chrysanthemum vase that was carved much more deeply with which I was very pleased.
Fortunately I am also very keen on some of the new pieces I have made using the Damask engraving and inlay. I made the vase in the photograph above last year which is now in the Goldsmiths’ Company Collection. It was the first piece I made using that type of engraving and I remember thinking at the time that is was one of the most successful pieces I have made. I am making another at the moment to raise some money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. It is more elaborate with gold inlay. I think it might beat the first one. Last year I also made a new mace for Manchester Metropolitan University to celebrate the 175th anniversary of the Manchester School of Art. It was quite a complicated bit of making and at each stage I was not quite sure how to do it. It is always very satisfying when something like that comes out well. It was the decoration on the mace, taken from a wallpaper design by Lewis F. Day that got me thinking about the Damask engraving.