Sunday, July 31, 2016

Walk Like A Man

On holiday and in Brighton!
Last week was a bit of a rush as I had to complete both a piece for the Craftspace "Made in the Middle" show but also the piece for Boris Bally's "Imagine" show, as previously mentioned, before heading down to the sea for a few weeks of relaxation.

Having completed "Walk Like A Man", I wanted it photographed and asked my colleague, Rachael Colley to help in the studio, to great effect. If you follow this blog, you will know that the original inspiration for the piece was this record and cover:

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 15

Which became:

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - 24

I've rather enjoyed the online responses to this, from Mark Fenn's "Are the Milky Bars on you" to "Bliiiiimey"!

Rachael and I had a lot of fun taking the photographs:

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - 23

I had to make an "emergency dash" into town to buy some black clothes for this and am indebted to Andy Howard for lending me his Stetson!

The first piece completed for the selling part of the "Made in the Middle" show is now finished and photographed:

I am enjoying the circularity of this work as it is all being made from elements found on the day I first came to Birmingham for my interview last year and explored the "Forward Rolling Mills" in Aston.

Forward Rolling Mills, Birmingham - 6

Short post! More next week.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

New Materials And Old

This last week has been taken up by exploring a fairly new material with the pleasingly forthright Ronda Coryell, a delightful Amercian woman who is an expert in the use of Argentium Silver, a material about which I previously wrote here.

After this last introduction to the metal, I bought some and started experimenting, making the mistake of treating it like standard Sterling Silver and, consequently, tucked it away in my box of metals to be dusted off this week and used with what I can only describe as a rapidly-growing enthusiasm.

Argentium Silver Class - 1

The material doesn't behave one bit like sterling... almost everything about it is different: it is unbelievably hot-short; it anneals in a different way; it fuses to itself so that there is no need to solder; it doesn't tarnish or firestain; it can be precipitation-hardened in a domestic oven to make robust catches and pins; it "slumps" more readily than sterling at temperature. Granted, it is about 20% more expensive than standard sterling but some of the advantages of the material mean that for some projects, it is well worth that extra expense.

For me, the two star uses for Argentium are the making of seamless tubing easily - really! - and the ability to harden it for catches. One of the projects we did with Ronda was making a box-snap:

Argentium Silver Class - 5

You will notice that I have filed the box down, ready for finishing as it has been fused and not soldered, so there is no danger of any seam appearing when it is re-heated to attach the back to the box.

Seamless tubing is made like standard, swaged and drawn tube but it is not soldered. By fusing the seam, the tubing becomes seamless. Given that pre-made sterling seamless tubing is around 200% to 600% more expensive than sheet or wire, it is well worth the price differential.

There is more technical data on Argentium here.

I've been able to get a bit of workshop time in recently and have been working more on my "Run of the Mill" collection for the "Made in the Middle" exhibition co-ordinated by Craftspace.

Run Of The Mill - WIP - 6

I should have one of the pieces for the selling collection finished this coming week.

Run Of The Mill - WIP - 4

This week saw the start of the weekend-long "Jewellery Quarter Festival" and as part of the Open Studios Programme, we decided to open the School of Jewellery for workshops on the Friday and Saturday. Sally Collins ran the Contemporary Jewellery workshop on Friday and I ran the Traditional Jewellery workshop on Saturday.

It was gratifying to see that the whole quarter was jumping and the School had around 120 visitors, most of whom were visiting for the first time.

On Friday afternoon, I had the amusing job of collecting the balloons from the irrepressible Tina Francis who is the co-ordinator of the Open Studios programme:

Squandering Helium!

The balloons were helpfully tied up outside each open studio so that the visiting public could see where there were studios down some of the strange alleys which make up the quarter. We had no such problem!

Unfortunately, the deadline for the "Imagine" show meant that I had to head home and spend the evening and most of today setting stones...

And it is nearly finished. I should get it photographed tomorrow, ready for posting.

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 18

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 20

Walk Like A Man (Sex Crime) - WIP - 21

I'll be on holiday next post!

Sunday, July 17, 2016


After the political ructions of the last few weeks, I've retreated to my workshop! Best place for me, really, but it makes for a fairly brief blog post...

The week kicked off with a visit to Walsall Academy to work with some pupils there on their CAD and Casting jewellery project. This is an impressive project, where the students have to work to a brief - which I set in September, "Beauty and the Beast" - and then make a piece of jewellery to that brief. They work by making digital models of the piece that they want to make and then directly mill a mould, into which they cast pewter.

Here is Gill Willis, the teacher who organised the project, inviting the pupils to have a look at my sketchbooks and handling collection. The results are really superb:

Walsall Academy - 1

There were prizes - the first prize is (rather annoyingly for me) shown on the far left, to the side: this pupil had not only come up with a really fresh interpretation of the brief but had included laser-cutting and engraving in his design!

A lovely project which we will be running again next year.

Sam Chilton is one of the longest-serving members of staff at the School of Jewellery and this week saw her retirement party there. She specifically requested a "Mad Hatter's Tea Party" and so we obliged, of course...

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 3

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 5

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 6

You might notice the absence of "tea" from the teacups!
Frank Cooper's daughter made the cakes:

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 2

Mad Hatter's Tea-Party - 8

Sam and I, surprisingly, go back a long way: I remember meeting her in the early 1990s when I was doing experiments with deliberately disrupting anodised aluminium surfaces:

Emergent Fossil: Aluminium 2

(Sam is an expert when it comes to anodising aluminium.) We then met again at the World Skills in about 1996 when we took a stand down from Glasgow and Sam was working with a group of her students who were in the competition. The brilliant thing about that is that we only just realised in the last month that we had both been at that event.

We'll all miss her, but her expertise means that I know she will be brought back in as a visiting tutor.

I've been working on my pieces for "Made in the Middle" over the last week. Although I had completed one piece some time ago, it now absolutely does not fit in with the aesthetic of the pieces I have started making over the last few days!

From my original idea of creating a range of related but discreet pieces, I made "Venus of the Garden Pond":

Venus of the Garden Pond - 8

Which is in no way related to the pieces which started to appear on the workshop table:

Made In The Middle - WIP - 1

I've been using sand-casting to replicate the corroded iron links in silver.

Made In The Middle - WIP - 3

And then re-attaching the silver links to the iron, rather as I did for "The Ancient Mariner":

The Ancient Mariner - 14

This time, however, the chain all came from an abandoned factory in Aston, Birmingham, which you may recall, with a rather lovely symmetry, I gathered on this day exactly last year, when I had my interview for the job at the School of Jewellery.

Forward Rolling Mills, Birmingham - 1

Made In The Middle - WIP - 2

There can be no denying that I work with some phenomenally talented people. One of our ex-members of staff, Richard Witek, is an incredible stone-setter and he was in this week to give a master-class in stone-setting. While I was chatting to him, he mentioned something that he thought I might want to see and I came in to find this on my office chair:

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 1

I assumed it was a hat left over from the party but was not prepared for the actual contents:

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 2

A life-size, identical copy of HM The Queen's "George IV Diadem":

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 3

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 4

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 6

George IV Diadem - Richard Witek  - 7

Nothing more to say.

Oor Wullie (Denture Repair)

Spent the weekend in Glasgow, collecting my microwelder, returning the books I stole from the workshop (!) and seeing friends. I was so busy that I didn't even get a chance to take many photographs.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Head In The Sand

As Britain crashes into economic disaster and global irrelevance and we swing ever-more towards a state of fascism, I've been burying my head in the sand and thinking about rather less grim things, like working on my piece for Boris Bally's show, about which I wrote a week or so back.

This week was also fairly tough in that we had been re-writing all the courses for re-validation and to make them not only more specific - for example, my own course is now much more about fine-jewellery and is very industry-focused - but also to allow them to have elements which can be accessed not only across the School of Jewellery, but also across the whole Arts, Design and Media School within the University. Anyway, it has been fairly stressful and this week saw the final validation and us letting off steam, which included my colleagues, Jo Pond and Sally Collins posing with giant courgettes...

Courgette Fashion

I have no idea!

The highlights of this week have definitely been the Research Matter(s) conference which was held at the University on Friday.

Research Matter(s) - Conference - 8

This brought together researchers from across the faculty to present their work in exciting and interesting ways and there was not one single boring paper or event: how many research conferences can claim that? Organised by the PGR Studio, this managed to be intellectually challenging as well as genuinely interesting.

Partly organised by my colleague from the School of Jewellery, Sian Hindle (taking a photograph in the image above), it was brilliant to be able to find out not only what direct colleagues are doing but also to meet with other people from different departments (and universities) and to discuss 'ideas'; something that we don't get enough chances to do. For me, it was especially interesting to hear from the PhD students from the Conservatoire, and Andy Ingamell's presentation was not only hilarious but very engaging.

Research Matter(s) - Conference - 16

Sian herself invited us all to rip up her research:

Research Matter(s) - Conference - 13

Research Matter(s) - Conference - 14

And there were "happenings" throughout the day:

Research Matter(s) - Conference - 4

Add to that a rather good lunch with evening canapes and drinks on a sun-drenched roof-terrace afterwards and it all adds up to a fantastic day.

Research Matter(s) - Conference - 9

In the evening, I headed off to St. Chad's Basilica for a performance of some organ works by Messiaen which I had not previously heard. This was part of a "Messiaen Day" organised by the Conservatoire and performed by Colin Andrews.

Basilica Of St. Chad - 13

St. Chad's is a remarkable building by Augustus Pugin, austere to the point - as my friend James pointed out - of appearing Hanseatic from the outside but which is bursting with colour and light inside.

The programme was mixed, with exciting works by Joseph Bonnet and J.S. Bach which I had not heard before, a really dull piece by C.M. Widor and a selection of movements from Messiaen's "Livre du Saint Sacrement".

Basilica Of St. Chad - 14

Messiaen's organ works have an improvisatory feel to them, which is unsurprising as they are based on the music he improvised throughout his lifetime for the Église de la Sainte-Trinité in Paris and although the works are ostensibly 'religious', they transcend any notion of faith, indeed notion of utility and become music in the purest, most abstract sense.

You can hear Messiaen improvising on the organ here:

The music was thrilling and even the horribly uncomfortable seats ("Consider the Agony", I think!) couldn't detract: it was all over too soon but we were invited to the crypt for drinks and to have a look round the collection of 'stuff' and the Pugin-designed chapel there:

Basilica Of St. Chad - 16

Basilica Of St. Chad - 17

Basilica Of St. Chad - 21

NGS - Bourneville Gardens Open Day - 1 - Selly Manor

Spent today with Zoe Robertson and Steve Snell (of The Dual Works) in Bourneville, the model village designed and built by the Cadbury family around the turn of the last century and which was today hosting the National Gardens Scheme tour of local gardens of note, starting at the amazing Selly Manor, a remarkable 14th Century building bang in the middle of Bourneville with a beautiful Tudor garden.

NGS - Bourneville Gardens Open Day - 5 - Selly Manor

I was especially taken with the topiary rendition of the Six Wives of Henry VIII:

NGS - Bourneville Gardens Open Day - 4 - Selly Manor

I especially like the two "wives" missing their heads!
The interiors are excellent:

NGS - Bourneville Gardens Open Day - 6 - Selly Manor

And there is a dressing-up box for taking Tudorbethan selfies:

NGS - Bourneville Gardens Open Day - 9 - Selly Manor

I probably have Tudorbethan nits now.

The whole tour was wonderful but it was really hard to photograph the gardens in any meaningful way - they ranged from the precise, through an eco-garden (brilliant) to a suburban jungle (also brilliant) and a Mediterranean garden where we quaffed homemade lemonade. Tea and live music were a bit of a theme:

NGS - Bourneville Gardens Open Day - 14