A Bespoke Necklace for a Very Special Lady

Choosing to be a contemporary jeweller is certainly the road less travelled as far as career paths go. The journey is long, thoroughly rewarding and cannot be travelled alone. I am extremely lucky to have a great group of family and friends who have helped me along the way and if there’s one person who’s always had faith in my ability to turn my passion into a self-sustaining career, it is my lovely Mother.

Given our close relationship and shared passion for jewellery, Mum is usually the lucky recipient of my new prototypes or any pieces that never quite makes it to market for one reason or another. Though she is always very grateful, on the odd occasion I also like to take the time to make her a specially designed bespoke piece, and late last year I did just that.

Poor Mum has spent many hours being dragged along for yet another beach collecting expedition and as a result has become quite the fan of my Plastic Soup jewellery. Over the years she has developed an eagle eye for microplastics and at times gets more exciting than I do when she finds ‘a good one.’ It seemed only fitting that her next piece was to be a Plastic Soup necklace.

When constructing my Plastic Soup or Interlace Adornment, I always begin with a pile of sticks which I cut, file level and sand. I then create the tiny little boxes which will contain a precious collection of microplastics.

  It all starts with a pile of silver sticks.

It all starts with a pile of silver sticks.

The box shapes are loosely based on the shapes of phytoplankton: the tiny organisms which sea creatures believe they are eating when in fact, they are ingesting microplastics. For mum’s piece, we decided on circular boxes and so I constructed a variety of sizes to suit the necklace.

To form the tiny windows of the boxes, I have sourced industry offcuts of thin acrylic which I use sparingly to minimise my contribution to the plastic problem. I hand cut the acrylic and then file it until it fits perfectly within the outer ring shape. I then create another, slightly smaller ring which sits within the large ring and forms a ledge for the acrylic to rest on to avoid crushing the tiny plastic fragments within.

  Each box is originally made from flat sheet silver which I bend into a ring to form the circular shapes. To be able to solder the inner and outer ring together, one has to fit perfectly within the other.

Each box is originally made from flat sheet silver which I bend into a ring to form the circular shapes. To be able to solder the inner and outer ring together, one has to fit perfectly within the other.

  The boxes fit just right and are ready to be soldered together.

The boxes fit just right and are ready to be soldered together.

Once all the components are ready, I bring them to the soldering bench. I first create a seaweed like structure to form the geometric foundation of the piece, then strategically position each box on the structure to give the illusion of the plastics being snagged within a seaweed tangle. As all of the Plastic Soup pieces are handmade and unique, they will sometimes come together perfectly and other times look a little unbalanced. At this point I will cut pieces off and reposition the components until I am satisfied with the composition.

  The beginnings of an interlacing seaweed structure (and some earrings on the side).

The beginnings of an interlacing seaweed structure (and some earrings on the side).

  Once the seaweed framework is constructed, I begin to play with a very sophisticated tacking substance (blutack) to experiment with the position of the boxes.

Once the seaweed framework is constructed, I begin to play with a very sophisticated tacking substance (blutack) to experiment with the position of the boxes.

Choosing where to hang the seaweed structure from can be a little tricky and it is always important to ensure that the piece hangs well when worn. Once I have decided on a suitable position, I attach the chain, check that all of my joins are well soldered and then construction is complete.

  Now that the boxes are soldered in place and the pendant is well balanced on the chain, the piece is ready for filing and sanding.

Now that the boxes are soldered in place and the pendant is well balanced on the chain, the piece is ready for filing and sanding.

From there the most time consuming part of the process begins: clean-up. I file off any excess solder and scratches to the surface of the metal then sand the piece to remove the file marks. Any surface scratches will distract from the overall effect of the whole piece so I really take my time, spending days to ensure that the finish is consistent. This can be rather fiddly given the intricacy of the interlacing structure and so I have developed a range of tiny sanding tools to access those hard to reach places.

Once I am completely satisfied with the finish, I blacken the necklace and begin to choose the precious but deadly plastic collection to sit within the boxes: In this case, turquoise, blues and greens.

  A freshly blackened seaweed structure ready for setting.

A freshly blackened seaweed structure ready for setting.

I then dust the piece and set the acrylic on the underside of the boxes. From there I carefully place the tiny collection of microplastics in their new home and close the lid. The protective tape is removed from the acrylic and the final piece is revealed.

 The finished necklace all ready to wear. Photograph courtesy of  Bianca Hoffrichter .

The finished necklace all ready to wear. Photograph courtesy of Bianca Hoffrichter.

It was a little while in the making but Mum was thrilled when she received her bespoke Plastic Soup Necklace. The colours and length of the chain suited her perfectly and she ‘feels wonderful wearing the piece.’ It means so much to me to have her support and knowing how proud she feels when wearing my jewellery makes my day. Thanks Mum!

If you would like to commission a Plastic Soup piece of your very own, please contact me to make an appointment.

Collecting Microplastics in Western Australia

After over a year between visits I recently made the trip home to Western Australia for my childhood friend’s wedding as well as my grandmother’s 80th Birthday. I love living in Adelaide and am truly grateful for all the opportunities it has to offer as well as the fantastic friends I have made but gee it’s nice to go home sometimes! It’s great to catch up with everyone and spend time in the place where my love affair with beach combing began. I feel so connected to the environment in WA and when I am home, I always make an effort to travel down to my favourite beaches to take the dog (and usually some unsuspecting friend or relative) for a walk to comb the shore line for plastic gems. 

Collecting micro plastic for my exhibition pieces always leaves me with contradicting emotions. On the one hand, the process of searching through the sand in front of the beautiful ocean is peaceful and meditative. It is like a never ending treasure hunt where there is always something new to discover and I am absolutely elated when I find my next precious plastic jewel. I love the way the ocean wears the pieces of plastic beyond recognition, leaving only a trace of the original item. On the other hand, I am horrified that these tiny fragments of plastic are being ingested by beautiful sea creatures and destroying the ocean with toxic chemicals as they break down. 

  A handful of toxic treasures. I have a love/hate relationship with the beautifully weathered microplastics I collect along the shoreline.

A handful of toxic treasures. I have a love/hate relationship with the beautifully weathered microplastics I collect along the shoreline.

My home town is Fremantle and given our close proximity to the busy port, I never have to search too far to find a whole bunch of junk washed up on the beach. In my local area, the best beach for plastics is Port Beach, just north of the Swan River mouth. Around this time of year, seaweed lines the shores and invariably, under ever single clump, lies a trove of deadly treasure. 

  Port Beach, just north of Fremantle, Western Australia, just after sunset. It is a beautiful, quiet beach which is constantly choked by discarded plastics.

Port Beach, just north of Fremantle, Western Australia, just after sunset. It is a beautiful, quiet beach which is constantly choked by discarded plastics.

When I collect, I first scour the surface as I walk, removing the larger items that I see. It is not often that I keep this part of the collection as it mainly consists of discarded water bottles, take away cups, lost sunglasses and thongs (flip flops for those in the UK), or used dog poo bags. Yuck! I collect it all up, discard the dog poo bags and take the rest with me to sort and recycle at home rather than using the beach bins which go straight to landfill. From there I get down onto the sand, inevitably doing several hundred squats and lunges, lifting each mound of seaweed to reveal tiny fragments of plastic as I go. I scour through the seaweed, pray to the gods that a dog hasn’t marked its territory on each mound, then collect my precious bounty.

Port Beach in North Fremantle, Western Australia, is regretably one of the best beaches to collect microplastics that I have found so far. Each clump of seaweed hides an abundance of deadly plastic jewels.

After many hours spent gathering plastics and removing whatever nasty rubbish I can, I go home to clean and sort the collection. I remove and recycle the large pieces I don’t need, then wash the plastic fragments using water and a sieve. I dry the fragments and sort them into different containers depending on size. The large pieces which are interesting enough to avoid the recycling bin are kept aside. I often like the look of these bits as they are more recognisable than their smaller plastic friends, however, have yet to release a range large enough to accommodate them, so into the studio hoard they go. Small plastics range from around 5mm – 15mm and are kept for my Plastic Soup Sculptures. Microplastics, which range from 0.1mm to 5mm and are the most time consuming to find and most deadly to marine creatures as they are often mistaken for a tasty treat. These tiny specks are sorted into colour and reserved for Plastic Soup jewellery.

  A handful of microplastics found at Port Beach, North Fremantle. Each piece is unique, deceptively beautiful and the perfect size for my  Plastic Soup  Adornment.

A handful of microplastics found at Port Beach, North Fremantle. Each piece is unique, deceptively beautiful and the perfect size for my Plastic Soup Adornment.

My Plastic Soup Sculptures and Adornment house only a minute proportion of the devastating quantities of plastic choking our oceans and shorelines. Given the drastic consequences our waste has on these fragile ecosystems, it seems crazy that we aren’t doing more. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the thought of tackling the world’s plastic issues but if everyone did their bit by rejecting single use plastic, using a bin and removing just a few pieces of rubbish when they went to the beach we could really start to make some improvements. 

  A close up of one of my  Plastic Soup  brooches containing a tiny portion of the microplastics I found while beachcombing around the Western and South Australian coastline. Photograph courtesy of  Bianca Hoffrichter .

A close up of one of my Plastic Soup brooches containing a tiny portion of the microplastics I found while beachcombing around the Western and South Australian coastline. Photograph courtesy of Bianca Hoffrichter.

For more information on how you can make a difference, visit the fabulous crew at Take 3 on their website or @take3forthesea on Instagram. Originating in Sydney, Australia, Take 3 have started a wonderful community of likeminded beach combers from around the world who are doing their bit for our oceans and documenting it along the way.

Our Show is on the Move

After the success of Solastalgia, the exhibition we held at Gray Street Workshop earlier this year, our small group of environmentally inspired artists have decided to take our show on the road. Up next the exhibition will tour to the beautiful Murray Bridge Regional Gallery, South Australia, where it will run from Friday the 1st of September, 2017, to Sunday the 15th of October 2017.

To keep the show fresh, each artist will be adding to their initial collection and we will also be encouraging a select group of regional artists to respond to their experience of climate change. For this leg of the tour, Lesa Farrant has made a collection of plant specimens from debris found along her local coastline, Jo Wilmot has developed some photographic works to contextualise her porcelain installation and I have added a range of Plastic Soup wearables to accompany my sculptures.

  Lesa Farrant's beautiful porcelain 'Lycium Ferocissimum' recently shown at our Gray Street Workshop Show.

Lesa Farrant's beautiful porcelain 'Lycium Ferocissimum' recently shown at our Gray Street Workshop Show.

  One of Lesa's new pieces, 'Brown Algae 1,' made from plastics and other detritus found along the coastline. Photograph courtesy of Heidi Wolff.

One of Lesa's new pieces, 'Brown Algae 1,' made from plastics and other detritus found along the coastline. Photograph courtesy of Heidi Wolff.

  Jo Wilmot's wall installation, 'Last Chance to See,' from our last show. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

Jo Wilmot's wall installation, 'Last Chance to See,' from our last show. Photograph courtesy of the artist.

  One of Jo's beautiful photographic works which will be displayed alongside her original collection.

One of Jo's beautiful photographic works which will be displayed alongside her original collection.

  A close up of my 'Plastic Soup' Sculpture from the original show. Photograph courtesy of Jo Wilmot.

A close up of my 'Plastic Soup' Sculpture from the original show. Photograph courtesy of Jo Wilmot.

  Some 'Plastic Soup' jewels will be accompanying my sculptures at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery Show. Photograph courtesy of  Perth Product Photography .

Some 'Plastic Soup' jewels will be accompanying my sculptures at the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery Show. Photograph courtesy of Perth Product Photography.

For more information about the show and the tour, you can head over to the Murray Bridge Regional Gallery's website or keep an eye on my news feed.

Plastic Soup Sculptures in the Making

Exhibiting at Gray Street Workshop has definitely been a highlight of my year so far and after receiving some wonderful feedback and selling a few pieces, the show wrapped up last week. In celebration, we had an artist get together to see where the show might go next and it looks like we might take it on tour, adding new pieces to the collection, which is really exciting.

Making works for exhibition is one of my favourite pastimes as there are fewer limitations on time and money compared to production work. This means I can go nuts on detail! It is also a much more creative way of working and I feel more freedom to address concepts that I care about such as the environment.

For Solastalgia, I really wanted to use the opportunity to develop my work further. I have been making wearable Plastic Soup pieces for some time now to explore and engage people with the issue of excess plastics circulating our oceans. The response has been really positive, however, I have observed people struggling with the tiny scale of the work. Given their intimate location on the body, some people have been too shy to approach the pieces whilst others miss them altogether. In response to this, I wanted to experiment by removing the pieces from the body and increasing their size to see whether larger sculptural works would be more successful in engaging my audience.

The increase in scale I wanted to achieve meant that silver was no longer a viable material as is too soft and tricky to work with at that size. I needed to find a metal which would stay rigid and was also able to be coloured black to give the pieces that seaweedy feel. I began experimenting with mild steel which can be blackened with white vinegar, a product which is good for the environment and can be reused as a cleaning product. It sounded like a win-win to me! Working with steel was an enjoyable challenge and a welcomed variation from my regular work with precious materials.

Experimenting.... My first attempt at welding mild steel.  

To construct the sculptures, I began cutting various lengths of steel and finished each end to a blunt point which gave them a geometric feel.

Many sticks to cut = very dirty hands.

I then welded steel sticks together in pairs, intersecting them with other pairs to let the pieces take shape. I added more and more sticks until the shapes were completed then began working on steel boxes which were to contain the plastic fragments. I decided to make them using a range of different shaped and sized steel tubes and discovered a real difference in the quality of welded steel tube compared to the usual silver products I have grown accustomed to. I cut each tube to size and spent days grinding down the messy seams to give them the finer finish I required.

A whole bunch of steel tube slices fresh off the Brobo. They are really sharp and messy looking.

  So many hours work to clean these guys up, but the end product was definitely worth it.

So many hours work to clean these guys up, but the end product was definitely worth it.

I then hand cut the acrylic ‘windows’ and gently filed them down to fit perfectly within the tubes.

Each piece of acrylic is covered in tape to protect the surface and numbered so that I know which box they fit into. The acrylic has to fit the inside of the boxes perfectly so that they stay in place without glue.

Many sleepless nights and an injured shoulder later, the tubes were welded in place and finally, construction was complete.

All done! Yay!

When making jewellery and sculpture, finish is as important as construction. A beautifully constructed piece can be completely ruined if it is not finished well. I wanted to avoid this by giving my sculptures an even sandblasted finish which was then blackened and waxed.

A beautifully sandblasted surface. After this stage I make sure that the sculptures are handled with cotton gloves to avoid contamination before I blacken them.

Dipping the sculptures into boiling hot vinegar. Though I thought I measured enough before I began, unfortunately this one didn't quite fit and luckily I had some spare vinegar to top it up!

With only a day to spare I prepared a variety of plastic fragments I had collected earlier, and set them in place. Phew!

My favorite part of the process is choosing the plastic fragments to go inside each box. These plastic jewels were collected at West Beach and Aldinga Beach in South Australia.

The final piece all blackened and set with plastic jewels.

The response to the sculptural pieces was encouraging and my audience were much more inclined to approach the works to have a good look around at the colourful plastic treasure they contained. Even more interesting was their response to the related jewellery I wore after seeing the sculptures. They could see the relationship between the two and It really helped to open up a dialogue about the ‘Plastic Soup’ phenomenon which was my ultimate goal.

I wore one of my brooches to the opening night of Solastalgia and it lead to some great conversations about climate change. My audience seemed to have much more of an appreciation for the tiny brooch once they had seen the sculptures.

My First International Show

Ahh, 2016; a year that was meant to be filled with making product, releasing a bridal range and approaching a few more galleries around Australia to stock my work. As is usually the case, life had other plans and I had the honour of being invited to exhibit with a group of established South Australian Jewellers at a fantastic new space, San W Gallery, which has recently opened their doors in Pudong, China. How could I say no?

San W Gallery is an absolutely stunning space with a fully equipped teaching studio, specialising in jewellery, glass and ceramics. Their passionate founder, Yiwei Wu, has worked closely with South Australian craft and design association, Guild House, to ensure that the space is a world-class facility. 1

San W Gallery in Pudong, China. Image courtesy of San W Gallery.

The exhibition, Nature, featured eleven contemporary jewellers, Julie Blyfield, Catherine Buddle, Jess Dare, Christian Hall, Kath Inglis, Sue Lorraine, Leslie Matthews, Alice Potter, Regine Schwarzer, Lauren Simeoni and myself. Each artist was invited based on their creativity, innovativeness and craftsmanship and the work showed great variety in technique and style. 2

A new Plastic Soup Brooch I made for the show at San W Gallery

The gallery had some beautiful images taken of my exhibition pieces worn by a model. Image courtesy of San W Gallery.

I am also excited to report that after the success of the show, the gallery have asked to display a collection of my work in their retail space and soon to be launched online store. While I am supplying them with some of my original Interlace styles, I will also be releasing some new asymmetrical earrings. I think I will definitely be keeping a pair of these for myself!

Thanks to Yiwei, the San W Gallery and Guildhouse for a fantastic show!

My new Asymmetrical Interlace Earrings for San W Gallery

 

(1 http://guildhouse.org.au/projects/san-w-gallerystudio, accessed 04.04.2017)

(2 http://guildhouse.org.au/projects/nature-san-w-studio-jewellery-exhibition-pudong-shanghai-28-may, accessed 04.04.17)

Solastalgia at Gray Street Workshop

I was approached recently by contemporary jeweller and emerging curator, Jo Wilmot, to be in a group exhibition with the theme of climate change. Given how close the theme is to both my heart and work, I naturally jumped at the chance. Together with jo, contemporary jeweller, Leonie Westbrook and contemporary ceramicist, Lesa Farrant, we began working on a collection to be displayed at the intimate gallery space at Gray Street Workshop.

The exhibition with my work at the front, Leonie's to the left and Jo's to the right. Photograph courtesy of Catherine Truman.

After much contemplation, we agreed on a name for the show, Solastalgia, a term developed by Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht. “The word describes a form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change, such as mining or climate change... people exposed to environmental change experienced negative affects that are exacerbated by a sense of powerlessness or lack of control as the change occurs” 1 The term described perfectly the feeling of unease we all had in response to climate change, giving us a language to describe the distress we face given our current environmental situation.

Lesa Farrant's wall pieces with one of my sculptures tucked in there. Photograph courtesy of Leonie Westbrook.

Though we all started with a similar concept, it was inspiring to see how each artist approached the theme; applying their own skill, personal experience and passion for the issue.

Leonie Westbrook worked with a variety of materials, some discarded and others that she struggled to give away. During her research, Leonie discovered a rather concerning trend of people selling faux beach treasure which she was appalled by considering the abundance of rubbish already circulating our oceans. Her work for our show experimented with how domestic items could be reused and transformed. The results were subtle and beautiful.

Leonie Westbrook's beautiful installation. Photograph courtesy of Jo Wilmot.

Lesa Farrant spent her days combing her local beaches for plastic treasure, organic forms, noxious weeds and other items which had been introduced to the coastline. She then slip cast her bounty in delicate white porcelain, transforming what was once a pile of rubbish into stunning hybrid compositions.

One of Lesa Farrant's amazing porcelain compositions. Photograph courtesy of Catherine Truman.

Jo Wilmot collected impressions of sponges and seaweeds such as bull kelp, casting them in dark ‘oil slick black’ porcelain. Jo has been deeply troubled by the state of our oceans due to rising sea temperatures and used black to symbolise the resulted deadening of such beautiful lifeforms. She then set them within handmade brass ‘exhaust pipes.’ The pieces are magnificent and thought provoking.

Jo Wilmot's 'oil slick black' porcelain and brass looked striking against a freshly painted black wall. Photograph courtesy of Jo Wilmot.

I too spent time combing my local beaches and further explored the idea of how to display the deadly jewel-like plastics which are circulating our oceans. I used this opportunity to increase the scale of my pieces resulting in a tangle of steel seaweed and plastic which cast the most beautiful of shadows.

  A close up of one of my steel and beach plastic sculptures. Photograph courtesy of  Jo Wilmot.

A close up of one of my steel and beach plastic sculptures. Photograph courtesy of Jo Wilmot.

The show opened at Gray Street Workshop, Adelaide, on Thursday the 30th of March, 2017, and closes on the 7th of May, 2017

.Follow the Solastalgia girls on Instagram to see works in progress and our future plans for the show @solastalgiaexhibition

 

1 https://www.nla.gov.au/content/solastalgia-extreme-weather-and-the-writer-s-role-in-a-climate-changed (accessed 25/04/17)

Colourful Treasure at O'Sullivan Beach

When I first moved over to Adelaide, I had ambitious plans of starting a research project exploring the environmental impact of humans on the coastlines of Adelaide. Life got busy and unfortunately my special project got a little neglected. I was beginning to miss spending hours scouring the beach for plastic and thought I would indulge in a trip to O’Sullivan Beach to see what sand tumbled treasures could be found.

  A great view from O'Sullivan Beach, just south of Adelaide.

A great view from O'Sullivan Beach, just south of Adelaide.

  Some of the amazing bits I found (and left) at the beach. I love the way that the ocean tangles together pieces of seaweed, coral, shells, discarded plastics and other exciting treasure so much that it was the inspiration for the interlacing links of metal in my Interlace and Plastic Soup ranges.

Some of the amazing bits I found (and left) at the beach. I love the way that the ocean tangles together pieces of seaweed, coral, shells, discarded plastics and other exciting treasure so much that it was the inspiration for the interlacing links of metal in my Interlace and Plastic Soup ranges.

There was an array of beautiful sights and marine life to be seen, but as suspected, there was also a build up of colourful but deadly rubbish wedged between rocks and littered throughout the sand. After only an hour of collecting, I had already accumulated a rather large pile which I have taken home to either recycle or reuse. In contrast to the tiny pieces I usually find in the Fremantle, Western Australia, the pieces from Adelaide were much larger and intact. I think I may just feel a sculpture coming on!

  Nasty rubbish. Great for my artistic projects but terrible for the environment.

Nasty rubbish. Great for my artistic projects but terrible for the environment.