I don't know why I make jewellery. Recently Ive been wishing I was doing something else: Casting about for alternative lives, moving in a cloud of 'what if's?', feeling mired and foggy. Part of this is perhaps the annual February Overwinter syndrome, part of it is the pall cast generally by the imp/3rd child who is completely capable of sleeping through the night but does so only as a hilarious prank/McGuffin/reminder of what you could have. Shes a card generally, but lets not go there. Some of this is to do with a fed- upness with the nature of jewellery as a tangible, product based thing, and some of it is to do with a raft of converging blockades again based around the physical nature of jewellery. The Bio resin I use is no longer available in the UK. I write to websites (that i cant clarify as current) in Germany- hopeful 'Guten Tag!'s' to no response. I found a supplier in France last year and after 15 or so painstaking emails in French, begging a French friend to ring them up, still more chasing, a protracted money order situation as they only accept Le Bleu etc. etc. They finally sold me a litre of Bio resin. I feel exhausted by the process beginning again and they so far have impressively ignored French speaking man ringing them up and a string of emails complete with screen shots of products from their 'selling' website. Not to carp. I feel at an impasse and am searching for alternatives but finding nothing genuinely so non toxic in terms of harm to self and harm to the environment and feel unable to move forward.
January is usually a time for reassessment and alignment. I love the emptiness here and enjoy the process of taking stock, doing accounts- and mostly the space for the ideas. I traditionally order new books and draw and draw. Any studio time I have I spend working on prototypes: Trying, failing, changing, discarding thinking in an unthinking sideways way as I press things together. This year I didn't do any of that, deciding instead that I already had too many strands of new work from the preceding year that needed to be resolved and consolidated before disappearing into the vortex of tangential ideas. I thought I could get a jump on the year. Run the whole thing ahead. Be clear and clean and on top of everything, with perfect workflow in an endless stream of crystalline days.
Aside from the obvious flaw in the plan in that I barely have workdays, and also ending up disorientated and wrong footed from not taking stock and doing usual January things, the biggest problem appears to be a kind of unconscious bodily resistance to my own agenda. I have been mired in illness for the entire month, as have the Children. I have found myself coming into the studio and literally being unable to get on with the jewellery I'm trying to make. A bizarre, heavy refusal. My pregnancy carpal has mysteriously reemerged in silent protest.
I can fall so comfortably into the primacy of a kind of right hand, right brain, right track rushing forward momentum of order and productivity that feels so wholly like the 'right' place to operate from. I resist the becalmed, swilling, nausea inducing periods of loss of direction and movement. I interpret it in terms of the limitation of the jewellery and begin to look up M.A.'s and think it really is time to get back into education. This ripples out across my life: Experiencing where I live equally in terms of limitation rather than expansiveness- Did I really end up in the most under stimulating one horse town in the western world? and so on. It rolls across into my children, or more accurately, their care, and a lowering sense of the extremely part time flexibility being so consuming I can never manage the clear headedness I crave to bring my work to where I want it to go.
A few days ago though, we were all walking together on the wide, beautiful estuary mouth where we live, which is possibly the place I love most in the world. It was perfect and gorgeous in its gloom shrouded openness and the moment of surrender came. I stopped fighting and caved into the process and the understanding that I need to allow yawning, formless time despite having so little. I need to go with the misty gloom of February, and my grand unraveling, no matter how counter intuitive it is to my desire to sort and organise and enact my responsibility as a working parent. The new work, the sea change, and the period of reflection needs to come through, and if it doesn't the existing work won't either. I am at an impasse because I just need to stop. And trust. And do the tangential things (like write this)in the knowledge that nothing may even necessarily come of this gluey fog time, but it is, nevertheless, exactly as it needs to be....
And six months later..a baby who is so wholly her own person. Who moves and dreams and chooses. The little ear picture seems a thousand years ago, and no time, too. I can never remember them at any age other than the one they are exactly now, yet at the same time i know that soon there wont be that warm weight of baby so endlessly on me... maybe this is why I have been drawn to making a very particular vein of new work that looks as though it has been lost on some dark ocean floor for years, silent and still, gathering layers of encrusting debris. Where nothing is changing. And everything sleeps.
I spent all last year creating this infinitely beautiful thing. My daughter was born in October and Im slowly rising to the surface. My head is full of new work that I can see with sidelong glances but never when try to catch it head on, in good light. But these little moods keep circling about me and I know I need to catch the look and feel. This week I found myself in the studio with all of this.....
So we shall see...
My (newest) daughter's name means From the sea. I've been thinking about these seabed shapes for a long while.
It is late November and its dark dark dark. Woken in the night by my unsettled children, it is oddly timeless: Either two a.m or six thirty, it doesn’t much matter. In the studio it is dark dark dark and I’m working from just after midday with daylight bulbs, focused in small pools of light, the gloom thickening behind me. Banked clouds sweep in from the sea, engulfing me in sudden drops into darkness and isolating rain. And then they’re gone. And the gloom continues to swill. Outside everything is dying back, collapsing. The birds are leaving. The audio books I’m picking are getting into the spirit of things. I just finished ‘Jamaica inn’, a sort of high gothic pastiche of Wuthering Heights with an emphasis on the spectacular manifestations of Cornish damp. Now its a long piece about Pompei, tracing the lives buried in the thick black lava. You see, my thinking is to Go With It: Embrace the darkness. It felt as though there was a collective national sigh of despair as the endless, beautiful summer finally gave way in early October and in rolled the rain and the wind. We had all, it seemed, forgotten that this is how it is. I resisted and griped, became tired of life, planned moves and then surrendered to the horrible beauty of the onset of winter.
And now that I have wholly embraced it I am letting it press the work in different directions. I am making necklaces in blood reds. I am making pared down cold metal pieces. But most of all I am drawn to really different pieces of poetry than those I usually use. The thing I made this week that I just loved was an absolutely plain bracelet decorated with nothing more than the last four lines of the John Donne poem ‘A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies Day, being the shortest day’ and they read
‘Since shee enjoyes her long nights festival/
let me prepare towards her, and let me call/
this houre her vigil, and her Eve, since this/
Both the yeares, and the days deep midnight is’
It’s just so gorgeous. The poem I mean. The opening line is the same refrain ‘ Tis the yeares midnight, and it is the dayes’. I want to put it on everything I make because it is so beautiful and in my head always at the moment, making perfect sense of this time. But here’s the conundrum: Darkness and winter are traditionally the symbol of death and loss in the poetic landscape, presumably because they ARE the time of death and the aging of the cycle of the year, the time of literal loss of light and everything that represents to us.
Earlier in the poem is a description of the time of year as ‘whither, as to the beds feet, life has shrunke/dead and enterr’d’...and the subject/author is ‘re-begot’ of ‘Absence, darknesse, death; things which are not’. Its a beautiful line, perfectly summarising the winter/darkness as the state of ’not’ The ‘nocturanall’ is in effect a suicide note, a lament that the protagonist will not be ‘at the next world, that is, at the next Spring; For I am every dead thing’. The darkest day of the year is the darkest day of the year and these concepts are conjoined.
Several years ago at a tradeshow I took a large order from the National Trust. Scrawled across the top of the invoice was a request for ‘NO NEGATIVE POETRY’. Their concern had arisen from a very jaunty bright blue necklace which was an optimum midsummer piece embedded with sweet, floating tiny white flowers. AND the opening lines from T.S. Eliot’s ‘Ash Wednesday’:
‘Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn...’
So, yes, it was quite funny. And I have no idea what I was thinking making the piece. But it does raise the question of just what constitutes negative poetry, and is it really unacceptable to use it? Is musing on the end of days necessarily negative, or part of our life, and valid particularly at a point in the year that promotes it? Can ‘darkness’ be beautiful also?
A favourite fragment of mine actually IS: ‘ The Dark- felt beautiful’...from Emily Dickinson poem #593: ‘I think I was enchanted/ When first a sombre Girl-/I read that foreign lady/The Dark-felt beautiful’ .ED it seems, positively embraces the darkness. Other fragments about darkness and winter, such as the closing lines of Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ (‘Or if the secret ministry of frost/Shall hang them up in silent icicles/quietly shining to the quiet moon)are also ‘positive’...here in a deep winter midnight, he is wishing for the infant beside him that ... 'all seasons shall be sweet to thee..’. Others are perfectly innocuous if taken out of context and used purely in terms of the beautiful images they evoke, like this from Milton’s Paradise Lost: ‘ yet from these flames/No light, but rather darkness visible’. When I first read this line it gave me such a clear visual of the darkness as definition I was keen to use it until I hesitated because of the context of ‘the dismal situation, waste and wilde’ that surrounds its line in the ‘fallen angels’ section.
Most however, or the ones that I’ve been recently drawn to, are firmly in the potentially seen as ‘negative’ camp. November is the month of everything dying off, and the truth is, I need to spend time in this strange place of insular darkness. After a summer of hot white light and openness I need this closing in of perspective, this collapse into the shapeless gloom. We work too hard to jolly it all up. Thick coats, bright lights, too much music. I say pause in the dark awhile, in the rain. We live in a death denying culture in perpetual freak out about aging. I say enjoy the rotting plants and the shapes they make against a cold sky. This isn’t negative, it just is. The winter sky is also by far the most beautiful sky of the year and I love the low sun in my eyes, changing the shapes of everything. The darkness and dying back is also a counterpoint against which the spring will be a beautiful explosion of softness, light and scent. But in the meantime ‘this the yeare’s deep midnight is’ and I will let it lend a little darkness to my work.
Yes indeed: A strange compulsion to attempt to balance items on suspended acrylic shapes that almost guarantee the jewellery sliding to the floor....Now really, name another occupation that would give me so much pleasure in this arena??
The first large scale manifestation of this that I can remember was doing the British Craft Trade Fair in 2005 with a stand which was so truly insane it’s a wonder I took orders. I had managed to put every piece of jewellery on a separate square of acrylic, each square being hung from an individual candy coloured acrylic rod, which in turn was hung from a system of cross bars I had tied to the overhead frame. I had hand drilled each central hole, attached each rod and so on. The upshot being that the whole thing swung precariously, scattering necklaces, as I hadn’t been too particular with boring old measurements. I also hadn’t had time to completely finish my samples, print my price lists or my business cards as caught up as I was in the floating stand delirium. It was however very beautiful and oddly satisfying as it swayed in the currents of air.
I had carried the candy coloured canes back from New York a few months previously, just knowing they would be useful. Visiting my old haunts for a short period that winter I had found myself, as always, drifting about my spiritual home: The industrial plastics shops that lined Canal Street in China Town. In my youth living in that city, way before the jewellery, I would spend afternoons wandering these stores lost in silent meditation among the plastic discs, rubber off cuts, cast sushi food displays and so on feeling complete and thinking that somehow this must be my work and be part of my life...
Borne out of Canal street afternoons the elusive ‘suspended stand that works’ quest would haunt me for years to come. Later in 2005 I attempted a stand that would ‘look like clouds’ at Top Drawer. Completely suspended, completely acrylic platforms. I set it up. It flipped upside down. And again. And again. It was terrible. I had to improvise with discarded furniture I found on vacant ground opposite Olympia. Truly awful. In 2006 I introduced the all white cult leader stand. Sensibly I had built special display boxes on legs that the acrylic sheets could lie on top of with all white ceramic objet and all white flowers beneath. People could actually see and purchase the jewellery. There were a few hanging platforms, but they took a back seat. I had to admit it was easier for everyone.
In 2007 however the obsession fought back as I designed and made the most spectacularly impractical suspended acrylic platform stand of all. This featured clear gigantic flower forms of petals leaves and stamen. Each flower consisted of about 30 bolt together components and swung on heavy chains from metal frames. Each piece of jewellery sat on a separate ‘petal’ on a larger flower. It took about 15 hours to assemble them and my fingers would bleed. Perfect for shows. If anyone came within a foot of them they would flip upside down and tip the jewellery all over the floor. Perfect for shows. I reluctantly retired them in 2009 and fought back any further impulse for the suspended stand.
A few weeks ago it was my turn to have the featured window at the Guild. It occurred to me that a few impractical acrylic platforms might be just the thing. I couldn’t help myself, the desire came out of nowhere. Setting it up, in a rush, I realized that the delicately balanced pieces were sliding everywhere. It felt good. True to form it has dismayed other members, tipping pieces into the plant pots, tilting precariously as soil subsides, being difficult to access for enquiries. Why do I do it? It’s beautiful. And somewhere I love it that it’s hard to reach and doesn’t quite work. I have a thing for frosted acrylic and flowers, for floating platforms and displays that make you look twice. I have a thing for cut sheet plastics and today, hallelujah, they’re a part of my life.
Reason #2: Because jewellery is a tangible thing (that leaves me and leads its own life...)
Frequently, when I’m doing a show and people visit me on the stand I’ll experience a flash of recognition for the necklace, a physical memory of the weather, the studio environment at that time or (most often) the audio book I was listening to when I made it....attached to that will be random bits of information about the person who bought it, and then gradually the whole memory will drop into place. We will often, then, have a conversation where the wearer of the necklace will fill me in on everywhere they’ve taken it and I get a sense of the new layers of association attached to the piece that supercede and separate from mine. Because of the peculiar intersection that takes place in certain pieces of jewellery where it is both a physical, tangible thing and also a potentially sentimental object, it can sometimes feel like something I make with elements, that I can hold, wear, measure and so on transcends all that when it moves out into the world. Whenever I gave talks in the past I always emphasised how much I felt that what made a piece finished was it moving on from the maker....
It brings me great pleasure to see them out and about, as in my world they’ve only existed in the studio space and then disappeared into the void. And lordy, do they get about....They go to India, to Australia, to Italy, to Iceland...they fly, they cruise, they tour, they hike, they go to work, they go on TV, they stunt ride, they get lost and come back, they go out at night......
NONE of which I do these days. In fact, the disparity between their lives and mine appears to continue to grow. I have always felt that the jewellery is having somewhat of a better time than I am. That the pieces are definitely glad to see the back of me and the boring studio and get on with things. The jewellery /jewellery maker divide continues to grow as my life is possibly at its narrowest ever in the close focus zero mobility era of the pre-school years. I love it, but I really, really do none of the above. When someone sent me the posted photograph recently I actually wept with laughter at the idea that at the exact moment that the necklace was hobnobbing with the leader of the free world in Washington I was stationed at the sure start playgroup sandpit in the rain encouragingly making vehicle back up beep beep beep beeps....And later, at the very moment that the necklace linked arms with Michelle, I was coaxing a gasping, sobbing someone off the floor because toast had been cut the wrong way. Which if you’re two, appears to be a cataclysmic thing. So yes, necklaces, live on and live it up for me!
Reason 1: Because everything that’s smaller than us is potentially jewellery waiting to happen...
So, yes, reason number one. The limitless scope of what defines ‘jewellery’. Technically anything that we can hang around ourselves, however fleetingly, can become jewellery. It’s a beautiful and cohesive understanding of the world. It’s also very compulsive and once I began to see everything laid out as necklaces I simply couldn’t stop....
If I’m at the beach I’m fidgeting little arrangements of stones and seaweed into extravagant ‘dress’ necklaces. In the garden (I’m afraid) its flower heads and leaves. I’ve had some of my best times with random, discarded items I’ve found in the street (although that’s generally the best in other countries where other people’s miscellany is fascinating in its difference). And now, with young children, as trips to other countries close down, there’s a whole new world of interesting design puzzles open to me now with the shape shifting ferment of toy build up in my house.
It’s somewhat like that fantasy that certain men have about football: The idea that it’s open to anyone. The story of the poor kid discovered playing in the dusty lot and transformed. And so it is with jewellery. I’ve seen beautiful pieces of work made with twigs, beach plastic, gravel, stones, wax, glass, plastic bowls, buckles, zippers, bottle tops, cardboard, newspapers and so on. You too lowly gravel shall go to the ball.
But transformative it is. Even the act of taking the object out of its context and wondering how to wear it lends a whole new dimension. This change of status is exaggerated further when it is combined with other materials and worn.
It’s also transformative for me. I find it restful to find patterns and potential in the world. Amidst the chaos and loss of all personal space involved with having very young children (not to complain) quietly shuffling twigs into a loop (bracelet!) during a frenetic trip to the park will quieten and refocus me: A much more powerful version of taking a deep breath.
Very occasionally I find myself in the sort of situation where people ask ‘So what do you do?’ and, on replying that I make jewellery, I’ll catch the quickest flicker of incredulity in their eyes. Their response for a nanosecond appears to hover above the perceived problem: Slightly simple minded? Unemployable liability? Trust funder? And then, swiftly righting themselves, they’ll say ‘Really? How nice for you..’ before moving to the left to talk to someone with an actual profession...
Stuck on what to write for this Blog, I turned ideas over in my head and kept coming back to my profound love of making work and the layers upon layers of meaning this process holds for me. The more I considered my reasons for embarking on (and staying with) a profession which has held me for the past fourteen years the more I felt compelled to write them....I never intended to become a jewellery designer and maker, it wasn’t a clear plan, more something that grabbed me and never let go.
The popular understanding of a designer /maker can (in my opinion) get caught in the ‘oh how nice ‘ net far too easily, alongside media degrees, au pairs, poets, postmen and other occupations that (quite unfairly) generate images of dreamy eyed days with a disengaged brain. I’ve always wanted to tell people just how challenging it is, how fulfilling, frustrating and fascinating. How levelling it is, in that its open to anyone. How exhausting it can be assuming the multiple roles required. How frankly wonderful it is that it continues to unfold before me in a stream of new ideas, new materials, changing environments and constraints that become positive shaping forces...
So, this is why I’m blogging the reasons why I make jewellery.....