I'm thrilled to announce I have my first stockist outside of East Anglia. It is the Theatre Shop at the Royal Exchange Theatre in Manchester. Not just any craft shop, but one I used to visit with my Dad as a teenager and one that inspired my to do my degree in Jewellery Design.
The building itself is amazing and the experience of going to the theatre there unsurpassed. It's theatre in the round so you sit right next to the action, or up in the gods looking down on it. It takes place in that yellow structure of pipes and tubes you can see in the picture above, which has landed like a spaceship in the middle of the Great Hall of the Royal Exchange. Whenever we would go to Manchester we'd pop in even if we weren't going to see a play as the space is just such an imposing place to be, to have a coffee or to mooch around the shop.
The craft shop itself has recently been upgraded with lovely bright new displays. I went in personally to drop off my work as I was visiting family and so met a couple of the friendly people who work there. They sent me the picture on the right of my work, which they've now displayed. It looks great. If you are in or near Manchester why not pop in. That way you'll get to touch my work, see how shiny shiny it is and pick your favourite colour.
Link to shop.
As a jewellery designer who sells online through Etsy I need to understand how social media works. A face-to-face course is a great option.
I studied Jewellery Design at Middlesex University from 1991 to 1995. Starting out as Hornsey College of Art, it became Middlesex Polytechnic in 1973 and a University in 1992 whilst I was studying there. The Jewellery Design degree ran for 54 years, with the final students graduating in 2016. The course was famously innovative, and tutors such as Caroline Broadhead, Pierre Degan and Julia Mannheim encouraged us to push the boundaries of forms and materials. What has surprised me therefore, when googling ‘Middlesex’ and ‘Jeweller’ is how many are using traditional materials and forms. Don’t worry however, I've included leather, silicon and someone who uses human hair.
Daphne graduated in the early eighties. Known globally, she has work in the Victoria and Albert Museum and Crafts Council collections amongst others. She makes one-off pieces using gold, black oxidised silver and precious gemstones. I’ve included her work as I find them classically elegant and clearly well-made.
Also graduating in the early eighties, Vicki Ambery-Smith creates intricate jewellery in precious metals inspired by architecture. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Scottish Museum amongst others. I remember being inspired by Vicky’s work when I was a student and my degree show pieces were (loosely) based on architecture too.
Catherine graduated in the early nineties (she might have been in the year above me but memory is hazy!) and her early work was ‘avant-garde, labour intensive, one-off, large hollow fly pressed forms’ as in the picture here. I remember the piece and others like it from galleries in London at the time I was studying there. The chain fits inside the black form and the other form fits inside it like a stopper. She has since developed a new range of work with 'wider appeal' and has a long list of celebrity clients and high-end stockists including Harrods, Heals and Selfridges. She is also the jeweller for the Harry Potter films, creating the Slytherin rings worn by Draco Malfoy.
Tania Clarke Hall
I’m not sure when Tania graduated – I’m guessing some time in the nineties although I don’t remember her being there at the same time as me. She works with leather and creates high-end pieces that are stocked in all the leading galleries. I followed up on Tania’s work when I briefly met her at a Middlesex reunion event this year and she was wearing one of the gorgeous necklaces shown here. Great stuff, really innovative yet elegant and wearable.
An exciting jeweller who graduated in 2007, Jenny works with precious metals and silicone and has won a number of awards. Beautiful statement pieces in gorgeous colours.
A more recent graduate, Kerry's website says she works with human hair to create ‘a delicate balance between the viewer/wearer’s feelings of aversion and attraction.’
If you are interested to see a wider range of jewellers who graduated from Middlesex I have created a Pinterest board here.
Over the last few months I've had to get better at introducing myself and describing my work. I've needed to write and update text for my website, for my Etsy shop and for applications to various shows. It's hard to do for a number of reasons, chief amongst them being the confidence to take yourself seriously (yet also not too seriously). I'm sure I'm going to get it wrong a few times before I start getting it right.
It's marketing basically. Each time I write something new I'm trying to add to the story of me, to my 'brand' if you like. I'm still trying to decide what that brand is. I know some things it isn't (luxury, 'fun', trendy) but it's much harder to pin down what it is. Sometimes I've written something and a word has clicked, for example recently I've started using the word 'playful' to describe my work and, for now, it feels right.
Below is the most recent text that I've written for the website of Cambridge Showcase, at which I'll be showing my work on Monday November 23rd:
Dittany graduated with a degree in Jewellery Design from Middlesex University in 1995. In the last few years she has taken up creative practice again after working in another career - language assessment. In that time her practice has developed from painting and drawing, through printmaking and now back to jewellery. The images used in her jewellery were developed through print making, in particular screen printing. The evidence of her evolution through these art forms is clear in her work.
Dittany uses a unique combination of card and sterling silver to create jewellery that is light, water resistant and durable. Once her images are printed onto card, she cuts out the constituent parts using a laser cutter, a technique that comes with its own challenges when dealing with paper and card. Multiple layers of card are then laminated together so that a strong bond is formed. For some pieces findings are added afterwards and for others they are embedded into the laminated card, thus making a feature of the functionality of the piece. Her inspiration comes from the materials and the processes she works with; a desire to experiment with both to see what forms are possible.
Her current collection includes stud earrings, drop earrings, brooches and pendants in a range of colours and sizes. Playful yet elegant, their design led approach is immediately obvious. She will be showing her work at Cambridge Showcase hot on the heels of taking part in the Hepworth Wakefield Christmas Market.
I varnish all of my jewellery with multiple coats of matt varnish and have spent a long time looking for the perfect varnish. I want my varnished pieces to still look like paper, but also to be as strong and as water-resistant as possible. I'm not expecting anyone to take a bath in a pair of my earrings but they do need to survive being worn next to damp skin, or being caught in a rain shower.
A gloss or satin covering is not appropriate for my current collection as it changes the look of the jewellery, giving it the finish of plastic. The perfect varnish should therefore be matt, clear and water-resistant.
I've done a lot of research on the internet to find out what other people use. For example here is an excellent article relating to papiermache objects. However, there are not that many (stubborn?) people out there trying to make properly water-resistant paper jewellery. Unfortunately some people make claims as to what different lacquers/sealers/varnishes can do without properly testing them. For example that a PVA type glue will waterproof paper - it will not!
So far I've tried more than 15 different kinds of varnish that have turned out to be unsuitable. Sprays are not good - they don't seem to cover all parts effectively, even after multiple coats. PVA type coverings, including those sold for decoupage, are unreliable, they usually stay tacky to the touch when dry and go sticky if they get wet. Other varnishes say they are clear but actually leave a yellow or chalky tone.
I test each varnish in the following way. I take a number of my card discs and varnish them with multiple coats with sufficient drying time in between. I've tried varying the number of coats and also tried a number of combinations of different varnishes on the same pieces. The varnished discs are then submerged in water. This is a harsher test than the reality of what my jewellery should survive in use, so should be sufficient.
Since I started making paper jewellery, I've kept researching new varnishes and combinations of varnishes to improve the quality of my pieces. My most recent experiments yesterday have extended the time a piece can survive submerged in water to over two hours. This result was achieved by layering two different kinds of varnish.
My jewellery is made using a laser cutter located at Makespace in Cambridge. This is Jaws. She sits next to Betsy. It was fellow artist Diana Probst who first told me about Betsy and Jaws and taught me how to use them. I’ll describe the stages I go through when laser cutting.
First I print card with my designs. Then I use Inkscape to design the shapes I will be cutting and save as svg. and dxf. files. Then at Makespace, I move the dxf. file into the laser cutting programme and make any necessary amendments. Learning how these two programmes work and interact with each other has been challenging but I’m confident with the basics now.
Then I set the laser cutter up and press the start button. Different shapes and different materials require different power and speed settings and finding the right combination of these that leaves the least scorching takes trial and error. I can pause the cutting at any point if I want to move a piece that has got stuck for example. Simple shapes such as circles can be cut in about a minute each sheet but shapes such as in the picture here take much longer.
At the end I’m left with a pile of these. These need sorting and cleaning. The more complex shapes have to be cut at a lower speed, otherwise the laser cutter shakes and the cut line is wobbly. Cutting this thickness of card at slower speeds leaves strong scorch marks. I clean them up as soon as possible to get rid of all the bits of charcoal flying around.
I'm also left with a pile of these. I haven't done anything with these yet but I'm keeping them all as I may use them to make artworks at some point.
I'm going to start blogging. Really I am. Properly this time. Last blog post? Er 2 years ago.
Picture 1: Two years ago I had the pleasure of being asked to take part in Language Unlimited, held at Williams Art in Cambridge. Sponsored by LT123, it was an exhibition where six artists 'put words into pictures and pictures into words'. My pieces consisted of quotations from poems or songs repeated over and over until they formed patterns. I wrote them using a fountain pen filled with acrylic paint. It was painstaking work.
Picture 2: I had been wanting to learn how to print for a while and spent the next year or so focussing on this. I did courses in screen printing and collographs, followed by self access work at St Barnabas Press in Cambridge. I fell in love in particular with the screen print technique, with the way I could translate my fiddly patterns into a repeatable image where I could play with colour combinations. I started selling my prints online through Etsy in 2014.
Picture 3: At the same time I had been continuing to make paper sculptures (more on that in another post). Hand cut and decorated (with fiddly patterns) each one takes an age to make. These morphed into jewellery when I discovered laser cutting at Makespace (another post or two me thinks) and, yes, repeatability! I'm noticing a theme here. Being part of Etsy Cambridge ( yes another blog post!), has allowed me to take part in a number of brilliant pop-up and market events. At these I've mainly focussed on selling my jewellery range and seeing the response different pieces get so I can further develop them. This picture is of our spring event this year, sponsored by Cambridge BID and held in the beautiful setting of the Round Church in Cambridge.
I'm sticking with jewellery now! It is what my degree was in after all. However, my pieces are clearly informed by my art practice, and I believe that this is what sets them apart. So for now I'm calling myself 'an artist and jewellery designer'.
You can see my jewellery here on Etsy.
I’ve just celebrated my birthday and this year, October has brought me two exhibitions at the same time, both with ‘un’ in the title; Language Unlimited at Williams Art in Cambridge and Art Unequalled at the Maltings in Ely. The work that I have in both has not been shown anywhere before.
Language Unlimited, Williams Art, Cambridge, 17th October to 4th November
Six artists put words into pictures and pictures into words
This show is sponsored by Russell Whitehead, Director of Language Testing 123, for whom I have worked as a Project Manager, Editor and Writer. All six artists taking part in Language Unlimited are connected to Language Testing 123 and we all have a dual interest in art and language.
Taking part in this show has given me the opportunity to create new art specifically focussing on language. I have been experimenting with the purpose of language in art; with words being legible or illegible; with the text being my own or being stolen; with words being in the background or being the whole work itself. I’ve ended up with pieces that are distinctively mine in that there is an emphasis on pattern, repetition and colour but that take my work in a new direction. I have really enjoyed having a brief to work to. More in the future please!
Art Unequalled, the Maltings, Ely, 19th and 20th October
"a highlight in the local calendar for visitors to find high quality handmade work presented direct from the maker"
I learnt about this show when I got to know the organiser, the sculptor Sally Dunham, when we were artists in residence at Primavera in Cambridge. I went to see Art Unequalled last year but this is the first time I will be taking part. For two days, about 40 makers of ceramics, textiles, jewellery, prints and paintings will take over the Maltings, a wonderful historic venue by the river in Ely. The art on sale caters to a range of tastes and some of the craftspeople will be doing demonstrations.
I will be showing paintings and prints, most of which will be from my ‘patterns’ range. The focus however, will be on the prints, which are all new as I have spent 2013 learning how to screen print. After some initial courses I have been using the open access facilities at St Barnabas Press to develop and print my designs. After a great deal of trial and error I am pleased with the results and have created a range of prints that are fresh, fun and affordable. I have really enjoyed playing with colours and creating some unexpected combinations.
If you are on Facebook take a look at my Facebook Page for some initial pictures of this new work. For the future, I have lots of ideas for developing the Language Unlimited work into prints and in that way merging these two streams of my work.
Do you like cake? Tea? Art?
If so, go to 23 Fore Street, Ely between now and the end of the year. There you will find a wonderful new tea shop called Samovar. The homemade cakes are divine, the range of tea is astonishing and the ambience is really cosy. It is also a great new art space and at the moment I have my work exhibited there, along with another artist Chen Xi. The work is for sale and I've done some new works inspired by this exhibition at Samovar. A samovar (see the picture here) is like a big Russian teapot.
The inspiration came when, I was trying to use up pages in an old sketchbook. I was looking through it and found some sketches I'd done when I lived in Russia. They were sketches of St Basil's in Moscow and other churches in St Petersburg. I took the sketches and did some lino cuts based on them. These have been used to create repeated pattern little pictures, like my 'flowers' and 'cells' but with churches instead. I think I'll do some Christmas cards based on them next.
Anyway, back to Samovar. I did not think that I was particularly a tea freak - but I have had my opinion changed by Marta and Sofia at Samovar. They can talk you through all the different types of tea they have and suggest a great cake to go with it. They also do light lunches and even coffee if you insist!! Its on Fore Street - so if you've been to visit the Cathedral then go to the market square and it's just down the hill from there. A welcome rest on the way back to the station.
Well, I said that I would put up some details of my 'occasional' travel bug. So far this year I’ve been to Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, the Czech Republic and Spain. Later in the year I’m off to Germany and also going back to Mongolia a few times. That is quite a year for travel! Considering last year I think I only managed Germany.
I took a sketchbook round some of those countries, with better results in some places than others. I’ve just put up some pictures of my sketchbook from Spain on my facebook page and will publish some more when I get around to it.
Not sure I'll be doing much sketching in Ulan Bator in November however!!