Finally… Something of Substance on the Silver…

For some time now I’ve been mentioning my silversmithing but failing to share any images or discussion here. It’s been such a thing, and it’s been going on for large parts of the last year. There’s so much that I feel I want to record about the process, I don’t know where to begin. I did, however, make something of a start on doing this when I was still writing for the Art Bead Scene blog. I wrote several posts on my early metalworking progress and I also wrote about setting up the tiny metal workshop that I’ve created in my airing cupboard. As these posts cover quite a lot of what I’d wish to cover on this blog, I thought it would be easiest to include them here in one long post: a kind of Me and the Metal: The Very Early Days, if you like. (Apologies if you happened to read them at the time; I’m just a bit lazy!)  Inevitably, reading these posts back now, there are things I want to correct; matters that I’ve since learnt about, of which I was ignorant at the time. So, I’ll chip in between the posts. I should say, first of all, that I’m less than impressed with my sawing skills on the first pair of studs in this post from last November, but hey – it was still the very early days….
Sometimes I find that, when my Inside the Studio post comes around, I risk going over the same things: I’ve been making beads; I’ve been making jewellery. And, since my last post, I’ve done plenty of both. But, I actually have other things to report on!  For a long time now, I’ve wanted to get to grips with metalwork. Ages ago, when I first got into making jewellery, I bought a load of kit for silver-smithing, but for various reasons, I’ve never set to and used it all.  I bought books and read things online, but I find taking in instructions from reading things quite difficult. Finally, during the summer, I got my act together and booked a place on a silversmithing course.  It’s not that I really wanted to start making silver jewellery. I’m planning to use other, more affordable metals, in the main, I think. I just needed opportunity to get comfortable with the various tools and processes. However, I have got a little seduced with working with sterling.

 
 
 
This crop of earrings – all kinda minimal (and not without some flaws!) – have all been made during the six weeks of the course. The term finished this week but I’ll be booking on to go back in the new year.  I am now far happier with the logistics of soldering, and I really want to do it some more, preferably sooner than next year! One of the things that has held me back from trying soldering, etc., at home is the lack of space. I’ve moaned about this here before, numerous times, in relation to one thing or another. Speaking to Christina, the jeweller running the course, I’ve come to see that the table area I was planning to use wouldn’t necessarily be the safest place. Then, about a fortnight ago, I had a brainwave. In the corner of my flat there is what I – and certain close friends – would describe as ‘a naughty hole’. To flesh the term out, I guess I’d describe a ‘naughty hole’ as any cupboard or hidden space where undesirable junk and clutter or ‘just stuff’ is stored/dumped, usually in a careless, haphazard manner. You open the naughty hole door, you take the thing you’re struggling to house, you sling it in the naughty hole, you shut the door, you forget about it.

Now, my naughty hole isn’t just a cupboard. It’s a walk-in naughty hole. Can you guess what my brainwave might have been? I really can’t believe I didn’t think of it sooner!!  If I clear out the naughty hole I can set up a jeweller’s bench in there!! And possibly have space for other things! Like good, orderly storage! And places to keep all of the many, many things!  But… oh… oh no, that means…. I have to clear out the naughty hole!


That will be quite a tall order. Towards the back of the hole there is stuff that I stacked up in there when I moved in. Heaven knows what half of it is. Dozens of VHS tapes that I can’t play, that no charity shop will take, that can’t be recycled easily…. but that belonged to my grandma?  Mountains of bank statements and suchlike that need shredding before disposal. About 8-10 years worth of the Times Literary Supplement and The London Review of Books. If I chuck them out, am I abandoning academia forever? Oh, naughty hole!!

BTW, am I the only person preserving one of these?

Because: design classic? Thought so…

The mouth of the hole poses another problem. At some point, I did attempt to set up some sort of storage nearer the door; there are some old shoe racks on which I had piled my unused metal tools, my polymer stuff, and various other supplies and kit. This started in an orderly fashion but has since descended into chaos. I messed it up even more the other week, trying to find my neglected metal tools under the other stuff. Now it looks like some kind of craft-based dirty bomb went off in there.

Just writing about the task in hand is making my head spin. I’m telling myself that, now we have this lovely expanded ABS team, and now I only write an Inside the Studio post every other month, I might have it sorted by the next time I join you. I so hope I can do it. Wish me luck!

One of the many, many things that I’ve learnt along the way – but this is a big one – is that, in most cases, it’s really worth using silver over copper, especially for making elaborate, time-consuming things. Sure, silver is expensive. but it’s not that expensive. The other cost that really racks up when making a substantial piece, is that of your time. I soon came to the conclusion that if I’m going to spend hours slaving over something, I want to be able to charge a decent price for it, and – as a quick scan of Etsy will show – you simply can’t command anywhere near the same price for a piece made in copper that you can for a piece made in silver. Moreover, there’s every chance that you’ll spend even more time working at the copper because you’ll need to remove all signs of the silver solder (assuming you’re using silver solder), which is far more visible on copper, obvs (although I have learnt a trick to help with this problem). I think this is particularly the case with bezel-set rings, as the connection points are more conspicuous. Also, rings receive more scrutiny when they’re worn – at least, I think that’s the case. It’s less of an issue with bangles, say, or earring hoops or pendants. So, I may have thought then that I’d largely be working with copper but I’ve ended up working primarily with sterling, and I love the stuff. I used not to be so bothered; now I get anxious if I feel I’m getting low on my favourite gauges of wire and sheet.

On to the next post, which I wrote in January this year. This is an extract from a longer post covering various things.

Is it a little late to be wishing you all a happy new year? I hope you’re all contending with the potential gloominess of January. I last shared an Inside the Studio post with you back in early November. Perhaps you’ll remember: I have recently taken up metalwork and I had plans of converting my under-the-stairs cupboard – aka the naughty hole – into a little work space.  There was a problem, however. Five years of accumulated junk and mess.
 
 
Well, it certainly seemed like a mammoth task. I was shocked just now, revisiting these pictures. A chance turn of events lead to me actually taking it on. I was telling a friend about my plans, a friend who actively likes sorting and tidying (I know?!), and she said, ‘Right, we’re going to do it’. I can’t thank her enough. It took two long afternoons-into-evenings-into-the-small-hours to sort it all, and it was pretty tough going and stressful at points: so many things to have to decide to throw away; so many, sometimes painful, memories unearthed. (Some of the stuff at the back had been dumped in there when I moved into the flat and that wasn’t the best time of my life.) But we did it! Can you see the little pixie door? Where the metal working pixies live?
 
 
Open wide and what’s inside….
 
 
I hope you’ll agree, it’s a pretty remarkable transformation! This is going to be the tidiest it will ever look, I reckon!  I’m so chuffed; I’ve only just got to the point where I’ve stopped going in and turning on the light and just thinking, ‘Eeeeeeeeeee!’ One thing I hadn’t remembered was that the naughty hole was actually an airing cupboard.
 
 
My first thought on seeing this beast (which actually serves all the flats in the damn building) was: ‘Oh, thank goodness! That’s several square foot of stuff I’m not going to have to drag out of here and and re-locate!’ Once this relief had worn off I was a bit disappointed that it was lurking in there taking up precious space. Still, I reckon I’ll live with it well enough.
 
So, it’s now time to pick up the torch/saw/file/hammer, etc.  My classes started again last night. I’m making bezels for stones. I was working on my first one again this morning. I got to the stage where I had it looking all neatly trimmed and thought, ‘Oooo, look, that looks like what it should look like! Will the stone fit nicely? Yes, it fits very nicely!’ Hot on the heels of that thought came, ‘Oooooo, look, is it? Yes, look, it is… it’s…. stuck…’. I’ve tried finding something thin enough to lever it out, but nothing is thin enough. I’ve tried running water into it. I’ve tried tapping it on the back. I’ve tried tapping it on the back with a hammer. I’ve tried holding it in a pair of tweezers and hitting it on the back with a hammer. I’ve tried holding it in a pair of tweezers and hitting it on the back even harder with a heavier hammer. No joy. It’s only a small, inexpensive, piece of moss agate but if anyone has any suggestions, do share!
I think the only thing to say here is that, despite a wealth of helpful suggestions, I never did get that wretched moss agate cab out of the bezel. I still have it somewhere – an object lesson in the importance of dental floss when seeing if your stone fits its setting!
Finally, this is an extract from the last post I wrote for Art Bead Scene in February 2016:
In the last couple of weeks. I’ve primarily been focused on the metalwork that I wrote about in my last Inside the Studio post.  I’ve been happily settling into my new workspace, filling it with tools and pleasing things – the utilitarian things; the lovely, visual things. It’s the closest I’ve ever got to a dedicated studio. (Well, my living room is as much studio as it is living room.) So, it’s still kinda exciting – and I rather love its diminutive proportions.
 
 
(Apologies for the blur – it’s hard to photograph this space through the aperture of its mini door.)
 
I really must thank all of you who expressed concerns about the lack of ventilation. (I even had one lovely reader message me. You know who you are – thanks again!) Of course, you were all right and I was… optimistic? After a few short bursts of soldering in there, even my raddled lungs were questioning the wisdom of it. Fortunately, I located another area of my flat that is also sorely underused and all set up for tolerating heat!
 
 
I know – I just boss health and safety! I must be making some progress because I’ve been happily soldering away in my pyjamas, which is not something I’d ever imagined. (NB. Never solder in your night clothes.) I had hoped to include some images of finished pieces with you. One thing I’m still getting my head round is the amount of time that metalwork takes (for instance, the filing, the endless, endless filing…. ) – especially when you’re still learning. I just have to keep telling myself that there are things that were boggling a few weeks ago, that I’m now doing with some ease. I have a stack of things in the works, including a number of bezelled rings which now need setting. I had my first go at setting in my class last night. Like a fool, I’d imagined it would be a relatively quick job. Will I never learn? For the first time ever, I’m wishing I had muscles in my arms. Why can’t I order them from Cookson’s like everything else?
I’m sure people who read this must have wondered what the hell my problem was. Why was I struggling so much with the setting? Well, I was making my bezels from 0.7mm sterling sheet. I’ve since learned that it’s best to use fine silver so I’ve swapped to 0.5mm fine silver strip. I did try the 0.3mm fine silver strip but I really can’t get on with it; it’s like working with tin foil. I think my early use of thick sterling has lead my to favouring a thicker bezel – something with a bit of resistance and the scope for shaping and sculpting.
By this stage in the proceedings (i.e. February 2016) I was fairly close to the point where I felt fairly comfortable doing simple bezel settings. All of these still get a good amount of wear.
simple-rings-group
And I was moving on to developing more involved and distinctive designs.
double-ring
the-mooring-of-starting-out
The last two rings are amongst a large crop of metal pieces, primarily silver, that I have ready to put into the shop. They’re all ready to go! The listings are drafted, they’ve all been hallmarked, I just need to take some more photos and edit them. I’ll come back in the next day or so to share some pics of more recent designs.

12 thoughts on “Finally… Something of Substance on the Silver…

  1. Oh, how great is this! Your pieces and workmanship are stunning and thanks for breaking down your obstacles in just jumping in and doing something. I have no excuses it seems to avoid this next step in my artistic journey.
    The computer, Yes I have! although it’s a nice turquoise and serves as my stereo with my itunes since my 5 disc CD player from the early 90’s (or was it late 80’s) bit the dust

    • Yeah – get on it! I put it off so long but I love it now! Ha – I should do that with my imac. I also have a temperamental cd player! It’s funny – that Mac initially belonged to my boyfriend, circa 2001-ish. He went to the shop and they only had that colour and he was too impatient to wait for a more ‘manly’ colour to come into stock. So, for forever, he insisted it was red – which it clearly isn’t!!!

      • excuse me I must correct myself. I USED to have the turquoise one but a leak in my old studio/office fried it so now I have a big 20 pound white one!

  2. Little trick I learned in my 3 day smithing class: put the stuck stone-in-bezel in a jar with a lid (baby food jars work great) and shake it around gently. It most of the time will come out.

  3. Great read, Claire! Your years of jewelry design and bead-making is finally paying off in strong design and aesthetics in metalsmithing. Fantastic!

    • Thank you, Dawn! You’re always only just getting there, hey? All these are earlier designs. I’ll be sharing some more recent pieces shortly.

  4. Yay things! You are already making lovely pieces, and your eye for composition is something I’ve long admired in your earrings so I have no doubt there will be amazing things coming from you.

    I’m up there with your friend in that I loooove sorting and organising. In fact so much so that I’m slightly concerned I change my mind on my projects so often so I have an excuse to ‘re-organise’. 😉 Your walk-in cupboard ‘before’ shots made me want to climb through the screen and get started!

    • Hey Penny – Thanks for visiting and the kind words! Well, I still have some more areas of abject chaos (smaller, admittedly) – so if you ever make it to Frome….

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