Saturday, August 31, 2013

Kicking Myself - Photography!

The new edition of Metalsmith, the annual "Exhibition in Print" is fantastic. Susan Cohn curates "As Seen By Others: Photography As Strategy", an exhibition which I didn't enter as I didn't really think that it would be very interesting, nor did I think that it applied to my work. Now I am kicking myself for being so short-sighted, especially after the day I have just spent in my house... more on that later.

In the presentation, Cohn talks about the way in which images of jewellery - and other crafts - do not necessarily reflect the reality of the object but can often reflect the maker's intentions about the object. I am not going to go into any depth here about the issue - read it; it is worth seeking out if you don't subscribe - but suffice to say, I hadn't realised that I actually had any sort of strategy for presenting my work photographically but realise on reflection that I do.

My own practice for photography has always been to "Leave it to Andrew". Andrew Neilson is my photographer of choice for photographing my work without props or models, the images I use to submit entries for shows and competitions and the ones which make up the majority of my portfolio images. I discovered Andrew by accident, a chance meeting between him and my friend and colleague, David Webster. When we talked, he was interested in photographing my work and I was interested in seeing what someone more used to photographing "classic" fine jewellery would do with my work. The results are, if I may be immodest, amazing. Without the collaboration of Andrew, or someone very like him, I would not have been able to get the exhibitions and shows that I have done.

This was brought home to me especially in the spring when I was preparing for the SCC "Enough Violence: Artists Speak Out" show. I realised at that point that my own work was not enough and I chose to work with photographer Simon Murphy on a collaborative project which saw him contextualise the work I had made by taking environmental shots using the pieces and the people they were made for.
(I will be posting photographs of this project after it has opened at the SCC on 27th September.)

Andrew has taken a couple of shots of my work on models, work which he did out of his own practice rather than commissioned by me and I really like them: he has captured something of the spirit of the pieces depicted...

Photograph Copyright Andrew Neilson, 2008; Model, Lynn Docherty; used with permission.

Photograph Copyright Andrew Neilson, 2008; Model, Anita Neilson; used with permission.
Simon photographed my "Empire State Human: A Post-Industrial Codpiece" with me as the model, again catching the spirit of the piece:

Empire State Human - A Post-Industrial Codpiece, 12

All of this has set me thinking about how my "regular" photographs are reflections of my intent and I think that it  has something to do with the way in which my jewellery often references traditions of fine-jewellery, which may be why using Andrew's fine-jewellery, Bond-Street-Quality images works so well for me.

Which brings me to today. As I've mentioned before, I am entering "Suspended in Green" and have spent the week making "L'Heure de la Fée Verte: A Post-Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring for the Sipping of Absinthe" from a piece of corroded iron pipe, a broken Victorian hand-made glass bottle-stopper and lots of gemstones. Unfortunately, because the entries have to be in by tomorrow and because I left it so late to apply, Andrew hasn't the time to photograph my work. Undaunted, I decided to set about copying the work he does for me and I'm very glad I did. Not because I think that my images are as good as his - good they may be, but they are not stellar - but rather because I have now spent nearly eight hours producing five images. I have never complained about the prices he charges for his work and am even less likely to do so now!

I started off having to learn about my macro-flash.

New Macro Set-Up

The lens is the excellent Panasonic-Leica 45mm f2.8 Macro, which I do know very well and which I use a lot but I had bought the flash ages ago, second-hand from a camera shop in Glasgow and have never really used it very much, largely because the times that I've used it, I've not been very impressed with the results. Today, due to the time-constraints, I was forced to read the manual: what a difference that made. I also decided to shoot in RAW format so that I could produce print-quality 300dpi images and as I have a new Linux computer running GIMP, I couldn't rely on my Photoshop skills to win the day. All-in-all, not very auspicious.

The light-box was improvised from four chairs, a broom handle and a bedsheet and produced these less-than-dazzling results:

L'Heure de la Fée Verte - Original Shot - 1

L'Heure de la Fée Verte - Original Shot - 2

Absinthe Spoon-Pendant - Original Shot

With these RAW shots, I went to the computer and this was where the real work began, first of all with the 'developing' of the RAW files into something usable. Unfortunately, GIMP doesn't handle this format, so I had to install a new programme, UFRAW, to do that and then learn how to do that. Once I got the images into GIMP, I then had to learn how to make the changes I needed, using what I had learned in Photoshop and trying to emulate that in the new environment.

My aim was to produce some images which fit in with the ones which Andrew has taken for me in the past, something suitable for an application, so better than a "snapshot" and, as such, I rather stole his style. I know that he doesn't use a softbox - largely because someone once emailed me to tell me to sack my photographer for not using a softbox! - but found that the images I took without diffusers were too harsh. In order to emulate the controlled hard-edge quality of his work, I used a lot of digital tools, probably more than he does. I am actually fairly pleased with the results but I am also sure that Andrew won't be losing my custom any time soon.

L'Heure de la Fée Verte - A Post-Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring for the Sipping of Absinthe - 1

L'Heure de la Fée Verte - A Post-Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring for the Sipping of Absinthe - 3

Absinthe Spoon/Pendant - Front

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

U Can't Touch This!

One of my students - thanks, Paula! - made my day today by giving me a load of old silversmithing hammers which she had bought as part of a job-lot of tools from a workshop which was closing down!

It's Hammer Time! - 2

Other than that, I've completed my "L'heure de la Fée Verte", the Post-Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring for the Sipping of Absinthe and my entry for "Suspended in Green". I have to own to being quite pleased with the result of this:

L'heure de la Fée Verte - 1

L'heure de la Fée Verte - 3

The top is a Victorian bottle-stopper - in keeping with the absinthe theme - and there is a "hidden" orange sapphire inside, which can only be seen by peeking between the supports of the head, a contrasting surprise. For the competition, it is required to produce a "retail piece" which references the main piece, so I made an absinthe spoon which can be worn as a pendant:

L'heure de la Fée Verte - Absinthe Spoon - 2

I now have to complete my "secret" commission for a wedding on the 14th of September.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Read The Small Print!

Having decided to enter "Suspended in Green" at the very last moment, I then thought I ought really to read the small print...

Application Requirements: 
Current resumé (CV), exhibitions, publication information. 
Artist statement relating to the work submitted (250 words max.) 
Up to 3 different gallery pieces can be submitted for consideration. 
A example of your intended shop piece is also required.

SO, I had to think quickly about what my "shop piece" would be given that, "These ‘Shop’ pieces MUST be directly related to the Gallery/Museum piece submitted."

I completed the enamelling on my piece, which is now titled properly "L'heure de la Fée Verte: An Apocalyptic Cocktail Ring for the Sipping of Absinthe":

L'heure de la Fée Verte - WIP - 10

As a retail piece, I decided to make a version of an absinthe spoon which can also be worn as a pendant:

L'heure de la Fée Verte, Retail Piece - WIP - 1

This is placed over the glass with a cube of sugar in it and iced water is dripped over the cube into the drink. Or you can wear it as a pendant.

Should get both finished tomorrow.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


The way my schedule has worked out this year, I've managed to miss most of the Edinburgh Festival and so when I went through this weekend, there was a certain lack of energy about the place, shows closing, posters coming down, people leaving. The atmosphere wasn't wholly helped by the dreich weather but I still had an excellent weekend, as I always seem to do when I visit the Scottish capital.

Dreich Defined

I went through on Friday after work, where I re-furbished my pendant "Dr Strangelove" for Jo Garner's "Bring Back The Dead" Exhibition next month (closing date is 30th August and she is still able to accept entries!) which I was dropping off with her.

Dr. Strangelove Revisited - 1

I also managed to complete a lot of the construction work on my piece for "Suspended in Green" although whether I can have it polished, engraved, enamelled, set and photographed by the deadline of 1st September, I do not know! As I mentioned previously, I am working with an old Victorian bottle-stopper and have milled out and cast a setting - annoyingly, it is not a regular hexagon, which made the modelling work a little tricky - which has been mounted onto one of the very first cocktail-ring shanks I ever made:

Suspended In Green - WIP - 4

This ring was started in 2008 and it was the first ring where I had tried to set the stone directly into the iron and cracked the stone:

Rusty Conduit Rings - WIP, 4

Inside the main setting is a smaller setting which holds an orange synthetic sapphire. With the quartz ring, the idea was that the colour would reflect through the quartz. With this ring, my thought is that the orange will act as a "relief" colour to be glimpsed between the green stones and stopper.

Suspended In Green - WIP - 4

The shank has kicked about on my desk since then, awaiting my taking it apart and reclaiming the stone and the metal but now it has been incorporated as it stands. A bit annoying in some ways as I've had to work on it while taking into account the internally-set synthetic sapphire: fortunately flameproof!

Saturday in Edinburgh was busy for me, first meeting up with Clive for breakfast, then going to see my friend, Mark Kydd, in the play, "Solstice" by Angela Ness and Glen Davies, an odd piece in which both Mark and his fellow actor Annabel Logan play a couple with a history and a dead body to dispose of. Both the actors are excellent but the writing let the whole thing down which is especially annoying as the play divided into two sections, the first two-thirds in which the characterisation and narrative are established and the final third in which we learn something shocking about both the characters and they take steps to deal with that revelation. Unfortunately, the first two-thirds are dull; they exist on one single emotional level with no variation. Once the revelation is made, the whole thing becomes remarkable. Not only do the actors have some decent material to work with, but the revelations pile up to a completely unexpected climax and the whole piece finishes at fever-pitch. Only in this last section could the actors shine. On the plus side, the last third is actually SO good that it kind of makes up for the first part but it also left me wishing that the whole thing had been 15 minutes shorter and thrilling from the beginning.


After the play, I met up with Jo Garner at the Dovecot Studios, where the annual visit of Dazzle is happening. For those outside the UK, Dazzle is a quarterly exhibition of the best in the more commercial side of contemporary jewellery. It is emphatically a selling show and is popular and well-supported but being a selling show, the jewellery is - as Jo Garner pointed out - often quite badly displayed as each artist is represented by around 20 or more pieces of their work and there are perhaps 30 artists represented in each outing of the show. What is great about it, however, is that it has a huge following of devoted people who turn out every year to get something new and wonderful, they take new graduates and they also stick with their old favourites (a sad moment this year came when I saw the work of the wonderful Nick Hubbard on display, having just read of his death the day before).

I decided to walk down to the West-End Craft Fair after that, in search of the fellow who was there last year who made amazing hand-blown glass spheres, having had a vague idea of a piece I want to make using them but unfortunately, he wasn't there.

Venetian Glass Beads

The West End Craft Fair is a longstanding feature of the festival, running for three weeks in the graveyard of an old church and seriously curated to prevent the usual "craft fair" tat from getting in, although I had a sense this year that the standards might be slipping a bit. One of the standards which was most certainly not slipping was that of my long-standing friend, Eleanor Barron, whom I haven't seen for ages, so it was nice to catch up with her.
What nobody was actually saying but everyone was hinting was that the fair was very poorly attended this year. Although I was there on the very last day, I have to say that it didn't seem as busy but the whole of Edinburgh seemed less busy than in previous years.


I spent the next few hours just wandering about, enjoying the nonsense that fills the streets every year.

Kilted Juggler

Before heading off to my favourite restaurant for dinner.
Anyone who likes Malaysian food should head to Kampung Ali Malaysian Delight restaurant at Fountainbridge. It has the most bizarre decor:

Kampung Ali

and absolutely no ambiance but the staff are lovely and the food is excellent and cheap. Achar, Vegetarian Red Curry and a mango "bubble" tea for dinner!

On leaving the restaurant, I bumped into an old friend from Manchester whom I have not seen in ages and caught up with him for a while before moving off to the final engagement of the day, "Jekyll & Hyde", a fairly straight stage version of the Robert Louis Stevenson classic horror novel. The twist in this one was that Dr Jekyll was female, a conceit which would have worked if the actor playing her had been better. In fact, what let down this stylish performance - with music - was that the actors weren't capable of subtlety. The script - especially where it tackled gender politics - was an odd mix of quite subtle writing and painful immaturity. The whole thing needed tightening up and a cast of serious-minded, mature actors and it could have been a wonderful piece of intimate theatre. The set and costumes were brilliant, the idea is good and the writing showed flashes of wit and subtlety but overall, the whole didn't really work.

Back home. My new students start tomorrow. I don't feel ready!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

British Racing Green...

Well, having cleared the workshops, catalogued my stones and re-organised the casting room, I found in my inbox a reminder for "Suspended in Green", the final show in the highly successful and influential "Suspended" series. I'd been torn about entering or not as there were a few items in the requirements about which I was not too happy. However, when I thought about it again - the deadline now extended to September 1st - I decided that a Victorian green glass bottle-stopper would come into service.

Suspended In Green - WIP - 1

A boring meeting at work and I was ready to go!

Suspended In Green - WIP - 3

There is nothing quite like a dull meeting for getting ideas flowing. Of course, having catalogued all my stones, I also realised that I don't have quite the stones I wanted for it, so they should arrive tomorrow. Who knows if it will be finished and photographed in time?
I've also been working on a piece for a friend's wedding, which I am not allowed to post at the moment as her husband-to-be isn't to see it! It covers something old, something new and something blue.

Other than that, I've been listening to a lot of music. I just bought the latest "Sparks" release, "The Seduction of Ingmar Bergman" which is very odd indeed, being something of an operetta. I also had a lovely experience with a CD set I bought online. When I was in my teens, I was very taken with the surrealist songwriting of Neil Innes and especially his "Innes Book of Records" television show. Having read an article about his new box-set of music from this series, I decided to order it and was delighted to receive a hand-written note of thanks from the great man himself:

Hero Worship!

I'll sign off with the oddly disturbing "Libido":

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Back To The UK

Home again after not only a calm and uneventful flight but also an easy and uninterrupted drive around the normally appalling M25! Unfortunately, we arrived back in time for the annual Brighton "Gay Pride" event, which we always aim to avoid as the town is just too busy and too noisy for that weekend. (I also have a grumbling thing about "I remember in 1985, being spat at by striking miners...", memories of when Pride rallies were fiery, political events, not loud, drunken excuses for 'camping it up'! Just ignore me, like when your grandad goes on about the war.)


Anyway, the upshot of that was that we decided to head off to Essex for the weekend, taking full advantage of the wonderful warm weather. A quick trip to the internet and we had booked our accommodation and set off on a not-so-amenable M25. I really loathe that road. It just blocks up all the time, unless you are travelling in the early morning or late at night. When we finally arrived, we decided to look at the church at Fingringhoe - yes, that is a real place-name - which is a quite lovely little Norman church:

Fingringhoe Church - 1

George Frere - 1

And which contained some dubiously earnest "crafts" for us to enjoy...

Cross-stitch Nativity

Cross-stitch Nativity

We had lunch in the churchyard and it was so warm I fell asleep!


Dingo cannot be trusted with my camera. Whenever I leave it with him, I come back to find odd photographs on it, such as this one.

Essex is really the home of what is known pejoratively as the "little-Englanders", the politically conservative, probably racist but definitely xenophobic, homophobic and strangely anti-government types who vote for idiots like our current Prime Minister, David Cameron: the sort of people to whom Cameron is appealing with his censorship of the internet in the UK. I didn't much like our next stop on the trip - Maldon...

Spot The Stranger

There is something so very "Daily Mail" about this! (I did like Stephen Fry's observation last week that the Daily Mail "still can’t quite live with the shame that it has always, always been historically wrong about everything - large and small - from Picasso to equal pay for women" and let us not forget their championing of Hitler...)

Maldon is a very pretty town with a waterfront on the Thames estuary. It is also very, very dull. It has a boring church with incredibly rude people working in it, some pubs and a horribly crowded waterfront. The only thing which stood out was the great cafe we found in which we ate an excellent breakfast.

The following week was back in Brighton, preparing for the sad journey - the M25 again - home to glasgow.

Back in the workshop again where I found that the painters were in and painting. I got them to leave all the furniture out so that I could re-order the workshops which felt like a mistake when it looked like this:

Workshop - Before and After - Before 1

I used the time while they were painting to organise my gemstone collection. I was quite surprised to realise how many stones I have bought over the years but not until now have I bothered to catalogue them in any way. The decision to do this came before the holiday when I made the surprise discovery of a box of tourmaline crystals in my safe:

I honestly don't remember buying these and have no idea where they came from. I know that they are mine as there was a label on the bottom with my name and the price of each crystal on it!

Cataloguing Gemstones - 1

It is good to be able to say that this won't happen again as I've now boxed and catalogued every stone I own.

Gemstone Trays

I also took the opportunity to catalogue all the amazing objects people have made for me, such as Lisa Stevens' ceramic elements;

Fantastic Mushrooms 3

Dee Wilder's polymer clay skulls;

Mystery Package... 14

and Lucie Veilleux's wooden gemstones;

More Workshop Presents - 3

By the time I had finished, it was time to go back to the workshop and tidy it, ready for action tomorrow morning:

Workshop - Before and After - After 1

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Boston and Home

It has to be said that this is the longest it has ever taken me to bring my blog up-to-date. It is amazing how much I was hampered by not being able to reliably edit photographs and upload them due to the terrible internet connectivity we had in Pittsburgh. I was working on it very piecemeal and lost momentum.


After leaving Pittsburgh, we landed in Boston and had a three-day break there. Neither Dingo nor I really took to Boston and I have to say that we felt very out-of-place there... a real shock considering the warmth we had felt in New York, Pittsburgh and Touchstone. We just didn't quite fit in with what I viewed as a very "preppy" and very divided city... perhaps I am wrong and this is the jet-lag talking! I am happy to be persuaded otherwise.

The main things of interest we found in Boston were the amazing glass flowers in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, the sort of antiquated museum that I really like. The flowers were made by the legendary Blaschka family as a teaching aid for Harvard University and are really quite incredible:

Glass Flowers - 2

Glass Flowers - 3

Glass Flowers - 5

On the following day, we went to the Museum of Science, which was great and actually occupied us for the full day. The highlight for me was this dish served in the exorbitantly expensive museum canteen:


You would have thought someone might have known better in a science museum!
Anyone visiting the museum should certainly go to the "Lighting" show and see the enormous Van de Graaff generator and Tesla coils sparking away spectacularly. No matter how naff the commentary or music, the show is brilliant:

Tesla Coils - 1

By accident, we managed to see it twice!

The next day, we had a day wandering about town and then flew home.

I've not much more to say about the three days we spent there, so a couple of photographs for padding!

Live Poultry Fresh Killed

Theatre Front

Tomorrow: Essex and back to Glasgow.