Every now and then I get asked to make something extra special for someone and so far everyone I’ve designed a piece for has been really happy with the results. Designing a piece for someone who has something particular in mind can be a bit daunting, I’m always worried that what I make won’t live up to the image they have in their head! The challenge of a commission can be fun and it always pushes me out of my comfort zone which is a good thing, I often end up with a new piece or range to add to my shop because of it.
The latest commissioned piece I made was for a lovely customer who wanted something special to remember a relative by. She had seen my work at a Christmas craft fair and contacted me hoping I could design her a special necklace inspired by her and her Grandads love of birds. As with all my customers who want a custom made piece we emailed back and forth for a while so I could get a clear picture of what she wanted; I then began working on some ideas and doodling in my sketchbook.
I always start a piece this way, I find it helps to get ideas onto paper even if they’re just doodles. If I like an idea or image I then begin re-drawing it and perfecting the shape. Here I have re-drawn the birdcage and birds over and over until they are exactly how I want them. As this particular design was for a commission I made up three slightly different versions of a necklace and then emailed the sketches to the customer.
When making a piece I copy my designs on to magic tape so I can transfer them to the silver sheet I’m using , it’s a really simple technique and means you get an accurate shape to cut out.
Here you can see the birdcage, bird and a back for the birdcage (as the piece is going to have gold leaf details) ready to be cut out. I use a saw to hand cut out each shape, adjusting as I go.
When everything is cut out then comes the hard bit, filing and shaping. If I’m making something for the first time I always cut it out slightly bigger than needed, this does mean I have to spend an extra long time filing it to perfection but while you can take away from a cut out shape you can’t add to it and I’d rather be safe than sorry. After I’ve made something once I have a clearer picture of the finished piece in my head and can be a bit more confident with my sawing. Because this was quite a tricky cut out job I also cut out a spare cage just in case there were any mishaps!
In this picture you can see what a difference a bit of filing makes. Well hopefully you can :s the birdcage on the right has been shaped and filed using needle files where as the one on the left has just been cut out.
Once I’m happy with the shape of everything, construction starts. The cage and cage back are soldered together and a loop attached to the top for a chain and the bird it connected to the cage with silver jump rings so it can hang in front.
I used a pendant motor to buff out any marks or scratches and then I put the piece in my barrel polisher to give it a high polish finish.
After all that the piece just needed gold leaf adding, which is done using special adhesive and an agate burnisher.
And that’s it, from start to finish, it’s pretty much the same process for anything I make, I always start with a few doodles and (most of the time) I end up with something unique and beautiful.One of the best bits of working on a commissioned piece is getting to work closely with a customer and how appreciative people are. Happily my customer loved her special necklace and I’m sure she will treasure it for years to come.
I’m currently working on a new range of birdcage designs inspired by this piece so keep an eye out for them in my shop.
One of my favourite jewellery making techniques is casting objects using the delft clay method.
As a jewellery maker I accumulate A LOT of scrap silver, it’s a pain but when making a piece you nearly always end up with some bits that are too small to do anything with, the great thing about casting is it means I can make use of all these bits and pieces of silver. I also love it because it enables me to create beautiful 3D one off pieces.
Delft clay casting is great if you’ve got an object you need to reproduce in silver, (such as an acorn or a fancy button) you can only produce one cast at a time but the process doesn’t destroy the master so you can repeat it as much as you need. This also means that every cast piece is unique!
While it is handy to be able to cast found objects, I personally prefer casting from wax models I’ve made. I like that every piece I create from wax is completely original and what I can cast is only limited by my imagination.
I learnt to cast by reading about it in my silversmithing books, watching videos on youtube and by trial and error. I thought with this blog post I would include a how to guide on casting, hopefully it will be useful to other makers who want to give it a go and interesting to people who would like to know more about the process.
Step 1. When carving your object out of wax make sure you file and sand it well, any nicks or grooves will come out in your cast version and it will take you longer to buff them out of the silver piece than the wax original. (I learnt this through trial and error!) So far I have only tried carving with Ferris blue wax but there are other grades available and even mouldable wax. You will need saw blades and tools for working with wax but you can get it all at Cooksons. It’s a lot more difficult than you would think to carve a shape out of wax particularly one your happy with but it’s definitely worth persevering.
Step 2. To make your mould you will need some delft clay, a delft aluminium ring, a couple of drill bits, talcum powder, large brush, a steel ruler and a scalpel. First take a couple of handfuls of clay and break it up using the steel ruler, keep breaking it up until all the lumps are gone.
Step 3. Fill the smaller ring with the prepared clay (making sure the lip of the ring it at the top) and compact it down but not too much, then even the top off by scraping the ruler over the top of the ring.
Step 4. Press what you want to cast into the middle of the ring of clay (Im using a wax heart I carved). I usually try and get it so about a third of my master is above the surface of the clay. When your happy with the position of your object brush some talcum powder over the surface of the clay.
Step 5. Screw on the top half of the aluminium ring (making sure it’s aligned properly) and fill it with the rest of the clay. Half fill the ring firs,t compacting it down, then fill the rest of the ring and level it off with the ruler. When your happy carefully unscrew the two ring halves and then gently remove the object your casting from the mould. Be careful when removing your object as it is very easy to destroy your mould, I use a scalpel and try not to disturb the clay around the edge of what I’m casting. If I do happen to loosen any clay, sometimes it can be fixed by just gently pressing it back into place.
Step 6. Take the deeper ring half and gently push a drill bit through the centre of your mould through to the other side. You’ll need quite a big drill bit as you need the hole to be big enough for the silver to flow through easily but don’t make it so big it destroys the shape of what your hoping to cast. Now from the other side of the mould (where the drill bit came out) cut a funnel out of the clay using a scalpel.
Step 7. Still working on the deeper ring half; put 5-6 small holes around your mould (on the inside), I just use a smaller drill bit to do this and scrape shallow channels from the edge of your shape to the holes. The holes are just for the hot air to escape. When your finished you can put the rings back together making sure they are aligned properly.
Step 8. Now the hard part is over and your ready to melt your silver. Keeping your mould close at hand, fill a scorifier thats attached to crucible tongs with your scrap silver or silver grain. You need to use quite a bit as some of it will make up the sprue. Sprinkle over some borax powder and then begin heating the silver (always be safe when working with intense heat and have some water to hand) it may take a little while depending on how powerful your torch is, if you only have access to a small handheld torch you may not be able to get the silver hot enough to melt. When the silver is liquid and the surface is constantly moving it is ready to pour into your mould. Keep the heat on the silver as you carefully pour it into the mould. Now you just have to wait and let it cool.
Ta Da! Once its cool just remove your piece and pop it in the pickle. The clay can be used again, just remove the black bits and keep the rest. When your piece is finished pickling simply remove the sprue and give it your desired finish. I like a high shine finish on most of my work so I usually use my pendant motor to sand and buff up my pieces.
Troubleshooting: If your mould only half fills with silver it could be that the channel you made to pour it in wasn’t big enough or was too deep. It could also be that the silver wasn’t hot enough when you poured it into the mould.
If you're having trouble getting your object out of the mould you could try adding talcum powder before and after you press your piece into the clay. If the piece you want to cast has indentations/holes you can try adding a bit of clingfilm to your piece so the clay doesn’t get stuck in it.
Right well I hope I’ve been of some help, bit of a long blog this week, next time I promise it will be shorter and less technical! :)
I find inspiration for my work in many places but one of my biggest inspirations is nature and the countryside where I live. I'm based a stones throw away from the River Severn and canal where I often go cycling and bring my camera. It's great to get out for some fresh air when you've been in the workshop all day and there's always something new to see and new inspiration to find.
(My bike, it was a gift from my partner, I think it's the best present I've ever been given.)
Nature features in a lot of my pieces, but the countryside is bursting with colour, which can be difficult to capture with silver jewellery. I solved this by adding felt and gold leaf to my work which gives it a bit of colour and personality. The great thing about the felt is it can be any colour imaginable and because I used to work quite regularly with felt I'm able to manipulate it easily.
Sometimes simply watching the wildlife through my studio window can be inspiration enough. For instance, my Bumble Bee necklace was inspired by watching the bees at work in my garden.
When I'm out on my bike with only the local wildlife for company I'm reminded how blessed I am to live in such a beautiful area and that I get to to express that feeling through my jewellery. (I really, really love my job!)
However it's not all bike rides and sunshine, sometimes if I'm struggling to think of what to make next I've found the best thing to do is to just sit down with my sketch book and brainstorm ideas. I usually use a theme like British summertime or Christmas and then I try to think of everything that those words bring to mind and the feelings I'd like to portray.
My Fruit Salad Necklace came out of one such brainstorming sessions, brainstorming is a really useful tool, especially when your feeling a bit creatively stuck.
I never end up making everything I design and sometimes when I do make something it doesn't work out how I'd like. This isn't always a bad thing sometimes I just have to leave it and come back to it later on, a few of my pieces started out differently and it was only when I took a step back and looked at them with fresh eyes that I managed to turn them into something beautiful I was proud to sell. So never give up on a piece if your not happy with it the first time around, it might just need a bit of tweaking.
As it's that time of year I'll finish off with a photograph of the bluebells at Bodnant gardens.
In my next blog I'll be writing about how to cast using delft clay.
Ok so I've decided to start writing a blog, during which I will talk about my inspiration, my design process, jewellery making tips as well as a bit about me.
This first instalment is just a bit of background about me and my business.
I started my business in 2013, I spent months with a business advisor creating a plan and a budget and managed to get a local authority small business grant. (Needless to say the business didn't go to plan at all!) Originally I had planned to make a whole range of different products to try and cover as much of the handmade market as possible and when I started I was making and selling felt products along with my jewellery. However in the last year I've found it too much to do the both and decided to concentrate solely on my jewellery work (Which was always the better seller). It was definitely the best decision and one I wish I'd made sooner. It has enabled me to widen my jewellery skills and ranges as well as keep up with all the other tasks that go along with running your own business.
Over the past 3 years I’ve learnt a whole set of new skills and improved some of the ones I already had. Until you start your own business you don’t realise how much work is involved and how many different skills you suddenly need to have. I can see how much I’ve improved just by looking at my product photography now compared to when I started. I’ve learnt a lot from reading how to blogs and watching youtube videos as well as from my own mistakes. So far every year my business has improved and I can only hope that it continues to grow.
I think all small business owners are always improving and learning, (I know I certainly am!). It's one of the great things about running your own business, yes sometimes its hard and at the end of the day the buck stops with you but I love the freedom it brings and the pride I get when I see my work being mentioned by a company or when a customer contacts me to tell me how much they appreciated they're items.
Next week I will be writing about my inspiration and how I go about designing a new piece.
With a degree in fine art but no idea what to do with it, I got a job in fashion retail and started taking evening classes at my local college. I tried out sewing, felting and finally jewellery making, the combination of art, craft and fashion really struck a chord with me and I wanted to learn everything I could about silversmithing. A couple of years ago I finally took the plunge and started my own business; Foxes and Fables, It’s been a definite learning curve and there have been highs and lows but it is still the best decision I ever made.