NB: A version of this post was published by Findings Magazine in Autumn 2015.
ABSTRACT: I have come to appreciate the importance of Scottish heather as a significant fixture in the landscape of Scotland. Heather is, like titanium, lightweight, strong, durable, and springy. Colour and pattern are integral to my work and are developed through close study of plants and created by the attributes of titanium. As my work continues to develop, I have incorporated more gold, which historically held its own role in the ever-changing Scottish landscape. I find the disparity between gold and titanium to be fascinating and continue to work on this relationship.
I have spent the last year doing a residency at Edinburgh College of Art. I did my MFA at ECA and it was good to stick around for another year developing new work and a distilled version of my degree work. Over the year I have been creating for exhibitions, developing new collections and most importantly working with students.
I decided to do the residency because I was not ready to lose the equipment and environment that were so important to me as a student there. I also wanted to get into teaching and the residency was a great way to do that. I spent my one day a week with the first or second year students sometimes teaching them hand-skills and sometimes discussing their design ideas with them. In January I started to focus on creating the outline for a workshop particularly dealing with how to colour titanium which has been my research focus since my final year in my undergraduate degree at Skidmore College. I was able to deliver this workshop in May and was happy to see how many students really were interested in working with titanium.
In order to fully prepare for teaching about it, although I know in practice quite a bit about titanium I thought I should put together something a bit more thorough. I made a trip to the Goldsmiths’ Hall library in London to see what resources they had about the history of titanium jewellery. It was a wonderful trip the librarians at Goldsmiths’ Hall are really helpful and knowledgeable. I spent the day going through old photographs and articles, some from Findings itself on the history of titanium in art-jewellery and enjoyed reading about the scandal of introducing mixed metal hallmarking.
While at ECA I applied for and was awarded a grant from Creative Scotland for research and professional development. This grant allowed me to travel to Italy back in July to study alloying with Giovanni Corvaja. My period of research is not quite over though; I am looking forward in the next couple of months to a trip up to Iona in Scotland to spend some time researching and experiencing the Scottish landscape in order to build up my sketchbook resources and spending some time with Karen Wallace in her studio in Edinburgh to learn hand engraving techniques. My current work is mostly made of titanium which is a relatively modern material, I wanted to bring more traditional techniques into it to more fully connect to the historical jewellery forms I am so fascinated by.
So I travelled to Italy this summer during the hottest week of the year in Todi, Italy. Todi is between Florence and Rome, its’ nearest big city is Perugia. The towns in the Umbrian region are all on the top of hills, so when you get to the city limits there are always stunning views across valleys. The weekend I spent in Perugia was the big jazz festival’s final weekend and the city was crowded with jazz musicians, dancers and enthusiasts. It was very alive.
Todi is quiet in comparison to Perugia. A town full of beautiful old churches and history. Everyone in Todi seemed to know Giovanni.
There were four of us studying with Giovanni that week. We all had very different ideas of what we wanted to learn from him which made it an excellent environment. A girl from Brazilia, A german living in America, an italian girl living in London and me. Five days goes by very quickly.
Our first day we really just talked. It was very fluid though, not like Giovanni was lecturing, but he was definitely imparting knowledge. Our second day we did a lot of maths and a lot of melting of our properly measured alloys. The third day was all about drawing down wire. It was really the fourth day that we split into our four directions. I definitely felt over the five days that I had learned secrets that will change the way I work with metal forever.
The reason I went to work with Giovanni was to learn how to alloy. When working with titanium I have a nearly endless choice of colours to use and can create a range or a change in colour through the piece. I wanted to use more gold in my work, but keep the colour changes. With Giovanni I was able to create a range of colours in gold with different ratios of metals. Each of these alloys have very different properties and uses. I am still working through this research, but I was able to create this chain pictured, which is based on previous designs in titanium but made entirely in 18 ct gold. I am hoping in time that my designs will develop relating the two colour ranges, using gold and titanium together. While the colours in gold are subtler than those in titanium they do seem to work well together.
While I am no longer at ECA I am hoping that the year I spent there has taught be how to balance creating for selling and personal research. I am looking forward to continuing my research into historical techniques and balancing them with the much more modern use of the material titanium. And in the meantime encouraging students to explore how they can use titanium in their work.
The trip to Todi and the skills learned there are part of a larger project which was generously supported by Creative Scotland.