Wednesday, August 31, 2011

troll time

Well, the students are back and their usual daft fun has begun. I came into the workshop today to find this on my benchpeg:

Terrible Troll

A present from Sweden. Unfortunately, the new students who don't quite have the same casual attitude to being in college found this very odd indeed!

Got a few more cast elements made today for Fashion:Victim and Future Legend:

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ (WIP 2)

Future Legend - WIP 5

The skulls in the first photograph are going to be magnetic catches. I made them by cutting and adding wax to my existing production Skull Ring model.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

too much to do

Just back from another weekend at the Edinburgh Festival and a whole new raft of students who arrived on Monday, eager to learn. Always a bit daunting, but after the first full day in the workshop, making a simple polished brass ring (!), they mostly seemed pleased. Long may it continue.

Festival fun, as ever, with a series of events I didn't plan to go to. Started on Friday night with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment playing some music I had very mixed feelings about: Weber's "Freischutz" Overture, Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto and Liszt's "Faust Symphony". I love the Liszt, have heard the Weber too many times and am completely cold on the Mendelssohn, or should say "was completely cold"... As with everything that orchestra touches - their Beethoven 9 is a revelation - the lightness and openness of their approach makes everything so very fresh and this concert was no exception. The Liszt, of course, was phenomenal but the real surprise to me was the Mendelssohn, a composer I've never much been interested in before. The violin - played by Alina Ibragimova - was given incredible clarity and presence, as opposed to the muddiness I've heard in performances on the radio and on CD.

On the way out of this concert, I was given a flyer for another concert, this time of unaccompanied choral music by Debussy, Dvorak and Szymanowski, held in the wonderful "Old St Paul's" church just off the high street in the oldest part of the town. A very odd place indeed, it feels like it is underground, which it is, partially:

Altar, Old St Paul's

The chorus were brilliant and the music perfect for the surroundings. An oddity about the concert was that it was advertised as a "Hot Chocolate" concert and we all got a cup of a kind of thick, melted chocolate when we went in, much needed on a cold and wet Edinburgh evening (even in August!).

Chorus and Director

On Saturday, I took in the exhibition of work at the Ingleby Gallery, asking the question "Mystics or Rationalists", a patchy exhibition with the outstanding highlights of pieces by Cornelia Parker and this incredible piece by Susan Collis, "You Again":

You Again

Which may look like a pile of building waste, but which, in fact, is carefully constructed from exotic woods, rare pigments and precious metals. Definitely my favourite piece in the show!

I revisited the newly-refurbished National Museum of Scotland again, to find that "newly refurbished" can be read as "dumbed down". Another museum bites the dust as push-button gratification replaces the encouragement of genuine curiosity. Tucked away at the back, I did find a couple of interesting pieces which I hadn't previously noticed, a rather excellent archery medal and some silver dog collars which were given as a prize in a dog race:

Archery Medal

Silver Dog Collars

These relate directly to something on my bench at the moment.

The afternoon was taken up by one of the most dreadful theatrical experiences that I can remember, "Beowulf: A Thousand Years of Baggage". Where to begin? Take the Seamus Heaney translation of Beowulf and remove the sensitivity to language, remove the poetry and replace it with undergraduate pub ramblings of pointlessly repeated text and needless "dirty words", make Grendel a thuggish, drunken lout (he actually drinks beer and showers the audience with it), make Beowulf a crusty neo-hippy with terrible B.O. (he actually stank), add relentlessly naff songs played at high volume and wrap it all up in a pretentious veneer mocking academia and you have some idea of how appalling this piece actually is. I left after 25 minutes and the friends with whom I was attending wished that they had left then too, as it got no better. Dreadful. Absolutely dreadful. £14 down the drain.

The evening was saved, however, by the concert I went to in the evening in St Cuthbert's Church, one of the oldest churches in Edinburgh and also one of the oddest, being the most Italianate and fanciful of any Scottish Presbyterian church I've ever been in, with gilding and angels and an enormous alabaster "Last Supper":

Last Supper

A concert of music for Baroque and Renaissance guitar and theorbo, given by the excellent Gordon Ferries, an hour and a half of quiet, reflective beauty, a million miles from the horrors of Beowulf!


Like so many amazing things at the Edinburgh Festival, this concert was "free", a donation was all that was asked and nobody minds paying for ninety minutes' worth of superlative entertainment.

Sadly, all over for another year.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

back at the bench

It is so good to finally be back at the bench and working on things again. I managed to get quite a lot done on two projects, cutting open the iron balls that will become "Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ"

Fashion:Victim - In Memoriam ALMcQ (WIP 1)

And also getting some bits and pieces together for "Future Legend", a brooch/pendant based on the David Bowie song of the same name

Future Legend - WIP 4

The dog is 9ct gold and was cast from a toy dog. Schleich toy animals are just the BEST!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Went to see Ravi Shankar at the Edinburgh Festival last night. Quite the best gig I have ever been to. He was amazing. I am so pleased to have been able to see him perform live, rather than just hearing his work from recordings.

Tuning Up

A photograph of the band tuning up with Ravi Shankar in the middle.
I'm actually at a loss to explain how good this was. I left physically shaking with excitement and walked home grinning like a loon.

Back in the workshop today and back to work on things. I've had an idea for a piece using some iron balls I found in a burnt-out warehouse in Kent four years ago:

Accidental Gehry 8

The balls are about 100mm across and hollow.


I've been inspired by the Alexander McQueen show at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which we visited, and the piece will be a bit of a tribute to him.

Got round to dealing with some of the things I found or bought during the summer, including things found in Pittsburgh, stones from my stone-dealer and the stuff I bought in Evolution in NYC:

Pittsburgh Finds

Carved Skulls

Tourmaline Crystals

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Festival Time Again

Still not really settled since returning to Scotland. From getting in on Friday, I had to go to work for half a day and then headed off to again to Edinburgh, from where I've just returned, having enjoyed the festival madness there. In short, went to see the Yogyakarta Court Gamelan, which was phenomenal, the David Mach show at the City Art Gallery and wandered around the High Street and the West End Craft fair.

Met up with Uncle Clive:


And got my usual tour backstage at the Tattoo. Also got onto the gantries above the castle, which is great fun:

Edinburgh Castle

The David Mach exhibition of works based on verses from the King James Bible is rather good, though I am not wholly convinced by the collages. They do work individually - for me anyway - and have a real sense of Bosch about them, but there are almost too many of them to be able to view them properly and, ultimately, they all start to seem a bit "samey". At £5 to get in, it is not an exhibition which one can return to regularly either.
A real bonus is the ability to access the studio where he has been creating the works and to see some of his older works and also the way in which he researches and makes the collages.
On the whole, I still prefer his sculptural works - of which there are all too few - though those which are there are magnificent:

Two Of Three

As ever, made from the unlikely common object, in this case, wire coat-hangers.

During the day, I went to the genteel "West End Craft Fair", which is usually mediocre with one or two examples of interesting work. It was especially annoying this year as there were an unusually large number of BEADERS describing themselves as JEWELLERS, which they are not. (This is not up for debate: as a jeweller, I am stating this as fact.) Unfortunately, the interesting makers were all the same ones from last year - with one exception, to follow - and there were rather too many poor-quality or done-to-death products on sale. I did, however, meet with the lovely Josean Garcia, who is an Edinburgh College of Art trained glass blower now working in Venice for Murano and in his own studio making the most beautiful mouth-blown beads, which I really want to use, though I'm not yet sure how:

Venetian Glass Beads

The gamelan music in the evening was utterly superb. I used to play in a gamelan in Glasgow, many, many years ago (now, like everything else decent and interesting in this town, defunct) and the appeal of the music is strong. I played in a Balinese orchestra, which is much gentler than the Javanese orchestra which I heard last night and it was utterly thrilling to hear these bolder instruments first-hand.
As a metalsmith, these instruments are so very appealing:

Yogyakarta Court Gamelan 3

I was also introduced to Javanese dancing, which I had never seen before. This guy was just phenomenal:

Yogyakarta Court Gamelan 6

I really wanted to see him perform more: his physical control was quite unbelievable and he was a most engaging performer. The musicias were all of the highest abilities and the woman shown at in the photograph below has an amazing voice:

Yogyakarta Court Gamelan 5

Top tip for eating out in Edinburgh!
The Malaysian restaurant Kampung Ali in Fountainbridge. It is exactly the same as the legendary "Malaysian Delight" on Nicholson Street but big enough to get lots more people in. (Having said that, they were turning people away by the time I had eaten.)

Achar, boiled rice, Spicy tofu with cabbage, mango bubble tea:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

In Leeds

In Leeds, Yorkshire, for a training course in using Gemvision's "Matrix" software for jewellery design. Matrix is a kind of super-sophisticated overlay for Rhino, which is aimed squarely at the commercial and retail markets but which has enormous potential for the less traditional maker too, having tools which allow the laying out of pave settings on any shape, the ability to calculate how many stones of a given size it would take to fill any given space, and many other procedures which jewellers find tiresome to do manually.
The programme also has a phenomenally well-conceived rendering engine based on V-ray, which gives excellent renders at very high speed in surprisingly short periods of time.
Although I would never make the pieces shown below, these rings were made start-to-finished render in about ten minutes:

The package is expensive, but is almost certainly of use to people who work with this sort of very high-end work, or with volume work. I can imagine using it in conjunction with Rhino, swapping between the two, rather as I already do between Rhino and Inkscape.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

moral bankruptcy

I don't normally post political notes on here, but thought that everyone interested in the disaster that is the UK might like to have a look at this article in one of our most "establishment" newspapers, The Daily Telegraph. It very elegantly sums up so much of my own thinking on what is rotten in the state of Britain:

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Monday, August 08, 2011


Further to my last post, please note that I confused two pieces in my head! Kevin Coates made a Magpie Brooch which was shown at Goldsmiths': the Magpie Neckpiece to which I referred was by Charlotte de Syllas. Apologies to both makers.

The neckpiece can be seen on her website:

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Time Regained

Just back from the incredible exhibition of work by neo-Renaissance artist-goldsmith, Kevin Coates, Time Regained at The Wallace Collection in London. I love Coates' work and have done since I saw his Magpie Brooch at Goldsmiths' Hall some time in the early 1990s, so it was an absolute joy to be able to view a large selection of his works, some older along with 12 new Penumbrae, which make up the main part of the exhibition.

Time Regained (Overview)

Overview of the selection of older works by Kevin Coates.


Detail of Penumbra 10: Hundred-Sunned Phenix.

Well worth a visit, as is the Wallace Collection in general. Of especial interest is the collection of arms and armour:

The Wallace Collection, London 38

US Visit Part Two

As discussed in the previous post, the recent break took us to New York City as well as other places. I'm probably going to annoy a good number of people with this comment, but both Dingo and I much preferred Pittsburgh to NYC!

In NYC, we met up with Stevie B and his partner Tabitha and spent a lovely day with them at the Museum of Arts and Design, followed by lunch and a walk in Central Park. The exhibition at MAD was the highly engaging "Otherworldly", which is an exhibition of miniature artworks:

Museum of Art and Design 1

I especially liked the miniature Jackson Pollock:

Museum of Art and Design

We also spent ages looking through the jewellery collection in the museum. I was especially pleased to see a piece which I have previously only seen in photographs and which was very influential on me in my own development, Richard Mawdsley's belt buckle:

Museum of Art and Design 10

The rest of our New York visit was largely taken up by three - yes, three! - visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to look at the armour, the mediaeval collection and the Alexander McQueen show, all of which were brilliant and which I could have spent hours more looking over.

Metropolitan Museum Of Art - Second Visit 14

We were also taken by my friend, Michael - who is not a jeweller - to the Brooklyn Flea Market. Here is Dingo with Michael's son, Patrick and a vintage, talking Bugs Bunny!

Talking Bugs

We also visited Evolution in SoHo, where I bought some oddities to incorporate in future works. A marvellous place, with lovely staff - a change from the usual corporate polite disinterest we encountered in most of NYC - and loads of fascinating "stuff":

Evolution 2

There are more photographs of the New York visit on Flickr, including the touristy snaps, such as those from the top of the Empire State Building!

As mentioned before, Pittsburgh was by far the more appealing of the two cities we visited. This may have been to do with the fact that I knew more people there but the place seemed much friendlier and much more relaxed (and also far less busy) than New York. It seemed that everywhere we went, people stopped to talk to us; from the couple on the bus who randomly asked me to fix their camera on the grounds that I had a camera and therefore "knew about cameras" to the two lovely older ladies whom we met in a lift and ended up talking to for half-an-hour, our experiences in Pittsburgh were wholly positive. In fact, the only thing I could complain about in Pittsburgh is the less-than-ideal public transport system...

Pittsburgh, being an old steel-producing town, is the sort of place I love. Like Sheffield in the UK, it is a lovely combination of run-down old buildings, ultra-modern buildings, down-to-earth people, university students and artists, unpretentious and open and I am delighted at the prospect of returning next year to work at the SCC again.

Highlights of Pittsburgh included a visit to the marvellous architectural salvage centre, Construction Junction:

Construction Junction 4

Where I bought a box of Formica samples and some rusty nails, though could easily have bought MUCH more if I could have thought on a way of getting it home! I'm hoping that one of the projects I will do next year at the SCC will involve taking the participants to Construction Junction.

Also, we spent a day at the audacious "Catherdral Of Learning" at Pittsburgh University:

University of Pittsburgh 1

A whole day was spent in the Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History (we were thrown out at 5pm!):

Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History 46

Also worth seeing is the largest collection of holy relics in the world at the very beautiful St. Anthony's Chapel. It is quite hard to get to this place and it is only open for a few hours per week, but is absolutely remarkable:

St Anthony's Chapel, Pittsburgh 3

This was where we went in, followed by a family. The family spent about 10 minutes looking round and left. We spent another three-quarters of an hour there and left. I wanted to get a book about the place, so we crossed the road to the gift-shop... the family were still there, having spent more of the visit in the gift shop than in the church!
The gift shop was, unfortunately, hilarious:

St Anthony's Chapel, Pittsburgh 15

I say "unfortunately" because it was very small, so we couldn't laugh. The family were still there after I bought the book, unable to decide on what "Car Visor Clip" they wanted to buy.

One of the things I really wanted to do was to look around some of the derelict industrial sites surrounding the city. This didn't happen as planned, but my friend Elizabeth - another of the few non-jewellers I know in the USA - took us to the derelict care-home for the widows of veterans:

Ladies GAR Home, Pittsburgh 7

I have to thank Elizabeth, her partner, Kirk, and their family for their support and hospitality: indeed, without their support, I wouldn't have been in Pittsburgh at all. It was a connection through Kirk to the director of the SCC, Janet McCall, that got me my engagement to teach there.
Thanks also go out to everyone else who made our visit so excellent, including the people who turned up to hear my talk - Adrienne and Sharon especially - and our host, Julie, who went out of her way to make our stay at her B&B  pleasurable experience. I can recommend her accommodations at Briarwood Manor to anyone!

One last image. My favourite shot of the whole trip:

Summer Fun

Children playing in the fountains at the Philip Johnson-designed Pittsburgh Plate Glass Plaza.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Back in the UK: USA Part One

At last! A moment in this mad summer break to get a few words down about what I've been doing. Some of you will already know that I spent the last three weeks in the USA, visiting New York, Pittsburgh, Erie and Edinboro, which was quite easily the most productive and fun break I've had in weeks. Not so sure that Dingo appreciated being drafted in as my PA, though!

It all kicked off with a talk at the Society for Contemporary Craft and general networking with Sherrard and the excellent people who work there. The place is absolutely excellent and well worth a visit when in Pittsburgh. The visit was set up by my friend Elizabeth, to whom I am much indebted for not only making this introduction, but also for her wonderful hospitality while we were in the city. (Photographs of what we got up to with her in future blog entries!)


While there, I was introduced to the wonderful work of Mariko Kusimoto, work of which I wasn't really fully aware previously. She makes phenomenally complex box-structures which house many, many elements which can all be removed from the box and worn as jewellery:

Mariko Kusimoto 1

Mariko Kusimoto 7

At the end of the first week in Pittsburgh, Dingo and I met up with our lovely editor and powerhouse, Brigitte, to go on the Pittsburgh "art crawl", which is a monthly event in which many artists and galleries open up to the public, serving drinks and generally having a lot of fun.

Dauvit And Brigitte

We travelled in style, as this picture by Brigitte shows...


Brigitte jumped in a moment later and the poor lad had to pedal for three of us!
After, it was dinner at the marvellous Church Brew House with other Pittsburgh metalsmiths, Glen Gardner, Thomas Mullen and Brian Ferrell.


Dingo and Brigitte ponder one of Glen's printed-metal rings.
More general photographs of Pittsburgh can be seen here.

Later in the break, we hooked up with Sue Amendolara and went to Erie, where she quite unbelievably managed to get us unlimited access to the fantastic art-deco Warner Theatre in the town.

Warner Theatre, Erie 3

More photographs of the visit can be seen by clicking the photograph above.

We then went to Edinboro, where I gave a talk on Electrolytic Etching, with a demonstration of how easily the process could be done with recycled mobile phone chargers!

Teaching At Edinboro

Sue With Etched Plate

After the demonstration, we all went back to Sue's house for a party, which was lovely. Especially lovely was the cake made by her delightful daughter, Leah and her friend Maeve:


A tribute to my pig earring!

End of Part One. More tomorrow.