Wednesday, March 20, 2013

handmade by machine

People familiar with my work may be surprised to learn that I use CAD (Rhino, primarily) as a design tool and that quite often elements of my work are made using CAM processes such as 3D milling of wax which is then cast in precious metals. My own approach to these technologies is not unique and while I don’t use them as a primary method of production, there are many makers who do – Janet Huddie, Christopher Hentz and Joshua Demonte to name a few with varied approaches.

CAD/CAM is here to stay, the 'new industrial revolution'; as with the last industrial revolution, there are the luddites, those brandishing sabots but so far there has not been the equivalent of wealthy, bourgeois mediaevalist, William Morris to lead a movement against it. (Despite the beard and mediaevalist tendencies, I have no such desire to call up arms against new technology quite apart from being of somewhat modest means.)
I recently received an invite for my students and me to participate in a very exciting exhibition of work which focuses on the use of CAD in jewellery. Organised by Karen Dicken, one of my colleagues who teaches CAD and product design in several other Scottish colleges, the exhibition is on the theme of “Handmade by Machine” and is going to be hosted by the prestigious Glasgow arts venue, The Lighthouse, which also houses the only open-access CAM lab in Scotland, MAKLab.
The brief for the competition is very open:
[Students and lecturers] will be invited to explore the possibilities in design using CAD as a tool to make jewellery. They will be asked to produce one piece of jewellery using the computer and its software components as their main tool in production. Pieces may be rapid prototyped, laser cut, printed or presented as animated virtual jewellery as long as their piece has entered and exited the computer at some stage in the manufacturing process. Pieces will be finished to a high standard and if the design requires finished by hand.
This has forced me to seriously think about my own practice and to consider what I am going to make for the show. I could have used one of my existing pieces, such as "Supercollider" or I could have finished off the Coco Chanel tribute piece for it, but I feel that this challenge needs to be met by something even more subtly exploring the area in which I work, blurring the boundaries between "handmade" and "machine made" to the point where people are unclear which bit is which.

Opalised Squid

Opalised squid. 

In recent years, I've enjoyed working with those little steel carbon dioxide cylinders which are used in cafés to whip cream and the like and it has always struck me that they would make a great little submarine. I also have a section of opalised squid and I a happy conjunction on my desk has led me to create a piece on a theme of "20000 Leagues Under The Seas", taken from the Jules Verne novel of the same name. I remember reading this and really enjoying both the book and the film with Kirk Douglas and James Mason. In a way, it is surprising I haven't tackled this theme before.
The piece is going to be a collar with a large pendant, the collar based on the remarkable Hohenlohe Collar, dating from 1460 - 1500:

I couldn't find any references to or photographs of this piece online, so this is scanned from the marvellous V&A book "Medieval Jewellery" (sic) by Marian Campbell. I am not even sure what this is made of, but I think that the branches may be enamelled iron.
I've always loved this piece and thought that it would be fun to interpret this in a more contemporary way. It is my intention to recreate this style digitally.
The submarine is well underway:

20000 Leagues Under The Sea - WIP - 6

And I am delighted to report that the propeller actually rotates!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

hull in a handcart

Well, not quite, but I did have to travel on a bus - which is nearly a handcart - the trains being cancelled due to a landslip.
Hull is an odd place. For the place in the UK with the highest rates of unemployment and some of the lowest property prices, it feels like a prosperous city. It is clean, it is busy, there are plenty of galleries and cafés. Adding to the oddness is the fact that it is in Yorkshire but while the buildings are completely as you would expect in that great county - plenty of notable Victorian buildings and arcades, reminiscent of Leeds or Harrogate - the surrounding countryside is flat and agricultural of the sort more usually associated with East Anglia.

The Punch Hotel

The Punch Hotel, typical Victorian architecture as found plentifully in Yorkshire towns and cities.

I stepped off the bus at Hull train station in pouring, icy rain, heading to meet with Cari-Jane Hakes at the excellent Ferens Art Gallery. Ferens is one of those great little galleries which exist all over the UK, showing small collections of very interesting work: there is a nice selection of Wyndham Lewis, Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash in this gallery and it well worth a visit.

Portrait of a Lady of Elizabeth's Court, 1895 - 1

 Fantastic jewellery on a portrait in Ferens Art Gallery. Is that a jewelled weasel she's clutching?

Before visiting there, however, I had to get some breakfast, which I found in a little café in Hepworth's Arcade, one of the many Victorian arcades in the city, now, alas! struggling to survive in the face of ugly chain-store malls. It was only after I had eaten my breakfast that I realised that there was an interesting dish on the menu...

Forget The Horse!

Savoury mice all round! 

Hepworth's Arcade is definitely worth a visit if only to see the remarkable old-fashioned Dinsdale's Joke  (and Trick) Shop:

Dinsdale's Joke And Trick Shop

I didn't think that there was ANYWHERE like this anymore but I am glad to see it here, open and doing well.

The reason for meeting with Cari was primarily to discuss an exhibition we have decided to organise. As yet untitled, the plan is that we will invite interesting jewellers to enter the show with a small entry fee which will cover the cost of a pair of the silver antlers that I made some time back:

Silver Antler Pile

The maker will then make a piece of jewellery using the antlers and it will become part of the exhibition. Obviously, friends and associates will be involved and we are also hoping to get interest from Etsy and Crafthaus as well as it is our intention to invite some of the makers from there to join in too. More details to follow...

After our discussion, the weather worsened and I headed off to see the remarkable Holy Trinity Church in Hull city centre before heading home. The church boasts a pair of Walter Crane stained-glass windows as well as woodcarvings by Robert "Mousey" Thompson and an amazing set of pews carved with gothic and pagan motifs.

Walter Crane Windows -

Carved Pews

Back at the workbench this week after as longish - for me - absence. I've been invited to make a piece for an exhibition called "Handmade by Machine", exploring the crossover between CAD/CAM practices and bench skills. While I could have used my Chanel tribute piece for this, I wanted something which blurred the distinction more than that, so started "20000 Leagues Under the Sea", an allegorical pendant after Jules Verne:

20000 Leagues Under The Sea - WIP - 2

Just received the proof of the poster for my first solo show, "I Am Iron Man", being held in Ayse Gallery in Istanbul, Turkey, next month. All welcome!

I Am Iron Man

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday At The California College of the Arts

Catching up!
Monday brought me to visit the lovely Oakland campus of the California College of the Arts with Curtis, where I met the legendary - but modest and charming - Marilyn da Silva and spoke to their excellent students.

This was the first time I had been asked to give a talk about my work and background, rather than talking about technical practice and I found it quite nerve-wracking. Unusually, I was exceptionally nervous, fumbling about and fluffing lines until I settled down into the swing of things. I had prepared the talk in advance and was very clear about what I wanted to say, but that doesn't make it any easier. It was nice to see that although I seriously overran, the students were attentive and we returned to the workshops to talk about practice and to let them handle a small range of work that I had brought with me.

CCA - Workshops - 1

I was then invited to take part in a crit of their work on chasing and repoussé, which was very intersting, especially given that I am hopeless at the process. (Or is it that I have never bothered to try to learn?) The quality of the work presented was quite phenomenal and it was surprising to learn that they were presenting their first pieces using the process!

CCA - Workshops - 2

So that was my last day in San Francisco. I went out that evening for a final, sad wander around, taking photographs and enjoying the strange crowds who thronged the waterfront:

Zebra - BOING!

Trumpet Busker

The busker was unspeakably awful!

Dinner in Chinatown - again! - and off for a coffee and canoli on Columbus, then bed.

The last photograph I took in San Francisco before leaving to return to Glasgow:

Last Photograph

Sunday, March 10, 2013

San Francisco Sunday

I had originally nothing planned for the Sunday of my visit. I had been hoping that Victoria would be able to get down from Seattle to meet me, but that didn't happen. Mike - from Velvet da Vinci - and his partner, Tom, took me out for breakfast at "Brenda's", the most happening place in San Francisco for breakfast, it seems (we had to wait about 40 minutes for a table, but it was well worth it). Eggs benedict with a creole hollandaise. I have never managed to cook such good poached eggs myself! Mike and Tom are such great hosts, easy to get on with and talk to,  and it was good to talk about jewellery, early music, 1980s activism and other diverse topics over a fine breakfast before going off on a tour of the city, starting with a drive round the Presidio and the hills - witnessing the issues of the non-native eucalypts usurping the native pines - and ending up, as you absolutely have to - at the Golden Gate Bridge.

We started off in Fort Point, under the bridge, noted for appearing in Hitchcock's "Vertigo". (I remember it also from another, earlier film, in which a woman and her gangster boyfriend hide out in the tower, but can't place the film.)

Golden Gate Bridge and Fort - 2

After we dropped Tom off to go to a rehearsal, Mike and I headed back downtown and he dropped me on Valencia to check out the bike shops, each one more exquisite than the last, hubs laid out like jewels in Van Cleef and Arpels, one single bike on display on the wall, look but don't touch. Bizarre! I could never ride something I didn't want to get beaten up a bit!

Oddly, I noticed a poster for my favourite club night in the UK, doing a spot in San Francisco. I haven't been for a long time over here and it would have been so funny to turn up there, but it was on after I had flown home.


San Francisco is a very strange place. But one street away from the excruciatingly hip Valencia is the excruciatingly poor Mission. Largely Hispanic, the Mission is less than two minutes' walk from Valencia. It always strikes me as odd the way that wholly disparate areas can exist so closely and hermetically.

Iglesia de Jesucristo

Prior to breakfast, I had been unable to sleep, so getting up at about 5am, I went out for a walk downtown and into Chinatown.

Li Po

Chinatown is great. While I had been telling everyone how amazed I was at the lack of tobacco smoke in the place, I hadn't been discussing Chinatown. Everyone smokes there. And spits. It is pleasingly ramshackle, it is buzzing, even at 7am on a Sunday morning. It really does feel like being somewhere else, somewhere not in America, unlike the "Chinatowns" I've been to in other places.

There are some spectacular buildings in San Francisco but at the back of my mind, I was always wondering how they survive an earthquake...

Zoetrope - 1

I rather wish that the ugly, visually bullying monster in the background of this shot wouldn't survive an earthquake - that from a fan of brutalism! The copper-clad building at the front is more the sort of thing I was thinking about. Quite lovely, the Zoetrope building from the turn of the last century.

I also spotted a rather good hat shop, which would invite me back later, when it was open:


One of the things I liked very much about the city is the food. On the way back to the hotel to meet Mike, I passed a farmers' market, set up in a little square near the hotel. I bought some blood oranges, $7 for 3 kilos, absurdly cheap and delicious:

Blood Oranges

Final SF post tomorrow!

craft forwarding

Apologies for the hiatus in blogging my visit to San Francisco; I had to spend some time in Yorkshire discussing a project which I hope to present here in the very near future.

My second day in San Francisco was spent at the American Craft Council/California College of the Arts symposium called "Craft Forward-ing", an event aimed at students and new graduates with a view to giving them an introduction to the world of business and suggesting ways of actually making money out of craft practice. This objective should be borne in mind...

I walked to the venue from Fisherman's Wharf, following the map to the optimistically-named "Creative District", an area of derelict industrial units under elevated roads. The CCA campus where the event was held is in a converted Greyhound bus depot, and an excellent conversion it is, but the only other signs of creativity in the creative district - apart from the creative use of the word "creative" in the name - was the warehouse given over to "Adobe", and I am not sure that doesn't count as "tech"! To get to the campus, I had to walk through swarms - actually dozens - of street-people aimlessly pushing the shopping-trolleys which house their worldly goods. They must be used to "creatives" wandering about; not one of them acknowledged my presence in any way. I am almost ashamed to say that their lack of attention came as a relief.

When I got to the venue, I met Curtis Arima (from CCA), Brigitte and Chris (from the ACC).

Craft Forward-ing

In brief, only Brigitte Martin and Philip Wood addressed the issue proposed by the theme of the symposium, discussing ways in which they had progressed from education into business. Brigitte talked about the need for PASSION and the importance of being focused on the business aspects as much as anything else. Philip - a very fine and well-known furniture-maker - talked a bit about how his online retail website Citizen:Citizen worked but got a bit lost in the nebulous politics of it all. Additionally, he never really detailed what had made him change from maker to manager/curator. Citizen:Citizen, however, offers an interesting look at ways in which an artist may seek to market small-run multiples in addition to their existing practice.


The other two speakers were an organisation called "Future Farmers" - Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine - and Tanya Aguiniga. Both of these speakers were interesting in their own way, talking about their post-art school practices but neither of them offered anything terribly useful to the theme, both of them detailing practices which were either subsidised or which they admitted lost them money. Future Farmers, in particular, were miles from the point and presented us with a fragment of a 1920s Czech play...

On one hand, it was unfortunate that there were not more students in the audience - which seemed to be made up of large numbers of ACC and CCA people -and that the audience halved over lunchtime. The day was of interest to me as an educator and should have been of interest to students in their final years of study. I am not clear why some of the speakers were chosen: Brigitte, obviously, because she runs Crafthaus, Philip because of Citizen:Citizen, but the others... well, I can think to name Boris Bally off the top of my head as being more suitable and if he were too busy or too expensive, there have got to be more.
Perhaps oddest of all was that the reception afterwards was held in a gallery which works as a real-world version of Citizen:Citizen, working with artists to get them to make multiples and selling them. Why was a representative of that gallery invited to speak?

Apart from getting to hang out with Curtis and Brigitte, perhaps the highlight of the day was finally meeting the author of "Ask Hariette", Hariette Estelle Berman. Charming, funny, cheeky, outspoken. Everything you would expect!

That evening I went out for something to eat on my own, wandering about in Chinatown and the Italian quarter, taking photographs. I think that this tailor's shop could learn something from the people at the symposium:

Suits YOU!

This is an actual window-display for what appears to be a tailor who is - somehow - still in business!
It is strange how symposia change the way you think about things for a while. I also noticed this:

Chihully On The Cheap

A Chihully knock-off! We all know the problems that Boris Bally and 2Roses have had with counterfeiting and that would have been a good topic for the day's discussion too. 

Ended up having a coffee and some ice-cream before visiting City Lights bookshop and browsing through the endless editions of "Howl"!


City Lights

Thursday, March 07, 2013

california dreaming

Just back to a cloudy, damp, icy cold day in Glasgow, having boarded the plane from San Francisco at 18 degrees C and brilliant sun. The air there was clear, here it is fugged with tobacco smoke. Everyone looks miserable. I look miserable. I have to get to work before 4pm for a meeting with the college Prinicpal at which he told us about financial cuts to the education sector. Not a great return from what was an amazing four days on the East Coast of the USA...

I am not really sure what has stopped me visiting San Francisco before. Even more than New York, SF seems to me to be the essence of everything I want my cinematically-tinged “USA” to be: the beat poets, Chinatown, Harvey Milk, Jefferson Airplane... all in the past. So far in the past. Yet it feels as if little has changed. Not even the coming of the tech giants has removed the feel of a thriving alternative arts community. The buzz on Sunday was that someone very, very important in Tech had bought one of David Choi’s bracelets from the show I was in SF to see.

The flight from London was uneventful to the point of boredom. I don’t get bored easily and always have books and music and notepads to keep my attention but eleven hours is a long time to be sat in one place! I was SO bored that I made the mistake of watching “Skyfall” on the inflight video. The song is the best thing in it. Seriously. It outclasses the film by a long way and I was singing it to myself for days after. This is a Bond-theme classic, up there with “Goldfinger”. The film, however, is a turkey (this is not the place to analyse, so I won’t; suffice to say that it is full of cod-psychology, mother fixations and a “baddie” of unclear motivation who is not only physically deformed but who is also homosexual). Anyway, completed some drawings and finished the last of the Chanel biographies and by the time we landed, I just wanted to be MOVING, which, alas! was not going to happen soon.

Immigration in the US is one of the most dispiriting things I have encountered. I am fortunate in not having met with anything but efficient politeness at immigration – no horror stories from me – but all those long queues, the miserable faces of the people waiting, the knowledge that your bag is spinning round and round outside... it makes for a grim experience, especially as in the three arrivals that I have visited – JFK, O’Hare and San Francisco International – the space is cramped and hot. That and immediately being treated like a criminal by being fingerprinted. It took me TWO HOURS to get from the plane to the transit. There simply were not enough staff on the desks.

I flirted my way into the country. The fellow staffing the booth at the queue I had picked was mean; really mean. He kept finding fault with paperwork and sending people back to the end of the queue. When my turn came, I opened the conversation with the truthful statement, “That is a magnificent moustache,” referring to his handlebar moustache, “People in the UK don’t grow them like that anymore”. I was through in about 45 seconds!

Hotel Room View

Having left a cloudy and cold Glasgow, I was somewhat overdressed for San Francisco: it was warm and sunny with clear blue skies when I set out to find Velvet da Vinci on Polk Street in the Russian Hill district, walking from the unlovely Fisherman’s Wharf, where my hotel was situated. I was wearing my new organic tweed kilt from Howie Nicholsby’s 21st Century Kilts and although I am prepared for the reception I get in most places, I was taken aback when a fellow ran out of a gym to ask about it!

San Francisco Sunset

Velvet da Vinci is a big, open gallery space on a busy commercial section of Polk Street but it’s grey-front and austere red lettering don’t prepare you in any way for the unpretentious friendliness of the staff and owners.

Ferrous At Velvet da Vinci - 14

The airy gallery was hosting the physical part of the joint Crafthaus/VdV show, “Ferrous”, in which I am pleased to have been included and which was my main reason for visiting the city in the first place. The show is thrilling. There is no other word for it.

Ferrous At Velvet da Vinci - 17

The theme, “Ferrous”, as you might imagine, was all about jewellers who work in iron in various forms. I would never have thought that there would be so many other jewellers who make iron a material focus. We are all familiar with the work of Rob Jackson and Jim Cotter (who was not represented in the show) but it was fascinating to see how other jewellers use this material; there were new names as well as old names using a new material. The iron is used in many ways: powder coated, enamelled, pierced, forged; it is from found-objects, new sheet, cast lumps, rusted, polished and patinated. From the point of view of a jeweller who uses iron as a primary material, this was such an exciting show but I think also that from the point of view of the public, the customer, this show is an excellent survey of the possibilities of jewellery in an era of exorbitant precious metal prices. Indeed, Mike, one of the gallery owners, told me that a substantial number of pieces sold on the opening night.

Unusually, for such a large and varied show, there was nothing in it that I absolutely hated: perhaps that has something to do with iron being "my" material. It is unmistakably an exciting selection, thoughtfully and skilfully curated. For me, the outstanding pieces in the show were work by an artist I haven't encountered before, Jaclyn Davidson:

Ferrous At Velvet da Vinci - 5

It was good to see that the opening was very well attended and there was a real buzz about the place, though an actor I spoke to told me that he would "never work again" after he asked about my "Macbeth Brooch"!

Ferrous At Velvet da Vinci - 15

Ferrous At Velvet da Vinci - 3

Mike Holmes behind the counter in Velvet da Vinci.

I was absolutely stunned by some of the work in the highly varied and innovative exhibition.
The online catalogue is here.

After the show was over, I was taken to dinner: when visiting the gallery, I can recommend the Chinese restaurant next door! Thanks indeed to Mike, Elizabeth, Ariel, Emma and the rest of the team for making me so welcome.

Having spent over 24 hours awake, it was time for bed.
More to follow...