Firstly, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and what got you into using Art Clay Silver in the first place?
Originally I trained as a Graphic Designer (in the days before computers!) and spent several years doing that. Then I started helping out part time in the accounts department of a firm of Solicitors. Eventually I was working there full time and progressed to Practice Manager. I worked there for 26 years. During that time I took up silversmithing and jewellery making as a hobby, and fell in love with enamelling. I torch fired everything until I saved enough to buy a kiln.
It was at a Guild of Enamellers conference in 2005 that I first encountered silver clay. We had a Masterclass about Art Clay Silver - and it was a total revelation to me. I immediately saw this was a material I could use to make work I had only ever dreamed of producing by traditional methods, being largely self taught and with very few tools. I was totally enamoured by this magical product and the possibilities, and bought an Art Clay Kit at the conference. Of course, like so many other people, having taken it home I was then scared to use it on my own for fear of wasting it!! Fortunately at the conference the following year there was a whole day workshop in Art Clay Silver which I attended, and I never looked back. Within a year I trained up to an Art Clay Senior Instructor, chucked in the day job and went for it! I can truly say Art Clay changed my life!
The European metal clay community has grown exponentially over the last ten years or so and we have witnessed a global shift away from the United States where it first took hold to a very strong and innovative presence in Europe. As you well know, the Metal Clay Europe page on Facebook has grown quite quickly into an international showcase for all things metal clay and beyond. Why do you think all of this has happened?
Facebook is a wonderful melting pot and a way people can come together online. The Metal Clay Europe group was originally started by Dee Bodin in Denmark. She loved using metal clay but felt very isolated with little going on in reality in the metal clay world around her, so thought this might be a way to find other metal clay artists in Europe. The membership snowballed showing there was a real desire for artists to easily connect with each other, and although we are still called Metal Clay Europe, we now have members all around the world. It is amazing seeing the different artistic styles and the range of work produced. The group is run on a very friendly basis and everyone from total beginner to professional is encouraged to show the world their work, ask questions and learn from each other.
You are also a member of the Guild of Enamellers in the UK and are well known for your mixed media pieces combining silver clay and enamels. What drew you to experiment and combine the two mediums?
Before I encountered Art Clay Silver I was already working in fine silver as it is an excellent metal to enamel onto. It was a natural progression for me to start using Art Clay. Due to the nature of the sintering process of silver clay I did find some differences in the way some enamels reacted on the surface, but these were easily adapted to.
What inspires you as an artist? What drives you?
I've always loved jewellery. For years I collected it and never imagined one day I would be making it. Being able to create my own work is still an absolute thrill; to finish a piece, look at it and say, I made that! It is such a wonderful feeling and each time it drives me onwards to create more! I love colours and textures, and I'm often inspired by historical work, particularly the medieval period. I feel very passionate about the whole creation process, and very lucky to be able to do it full time.
What is your greatest ongoing challenge as an artist?
I am a terrible procrastinator! I'll get an idea in my head that will go round and round and somehow never make it into reality. I'll spend ages thinking something through and seeing the possible problems when I really should just get hands on and work it out. Most of my designs are adapted and changed as I make them anyway. That is one of the wonders of silver clay though, the ability to change direction half way through a piece with such a forgiving material.
What do you do when mental blocks or lack of inspiration affect your ability to create?
I keep folders on my computer called Inspiration. Whenever I'm on the internet if I see a photo I love I'll save it. If I see an inspiring article I'll save the link. It can be anything, mostly not jewellery related - although when I look at my photos they are nearly all brightly coloured!! When I have a mental block I go back and revisit some of those things to see if I can jumpstart some creativity. I like to use Google images to help formulate an idea. Putting in keywords and seeing what comes up can make me think in new ways.
If you were to give any sage advice to other metal clay users out there, what would it be?
Use a magnifier. It's not about how good or bad your eyes are. If you work on a piece looking at it at 3x magnification your standard of work will be much better, and any imperfections will be much smaller when you look at it with the naked eye.
Never fire anything you are not happy with. It will never magically improve in the firing! The wonderful thing about metal clay is you can grind it up, reconstitute and start again.