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.

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.

FrogCakes!!

Since moving to South Australia, I have been introduced to a local delicacy, the Balfours FrogCake, which is one of the sweetest, naughtiest cakes I have ever eaten. To celebrate this local treat and raise money for mental health research, ceramicists Klaus Gutowski and David Ellis Moseley asked a variety of artists to decorate a ceramic FrogCake blank in their own style to be exhibited at the 'Icon of South Australia' exhibition. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to work with something a little different whilst eating cake.

Paddy and I 'researching' the FrogCake.

Paddy and I 'researching' the FrogCake.

After a few false starts with materials that didn’t quite work out I managed to carve my interlacing pattern into the surface with some rusty, blunt lino cutting tools which I mistakenly acquired from school around thirteen years earlier. Not exactly the easiest choice, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures!

From the original blank to a lovely carved surface. I used washi tape to mask the pattern and actually quite liked it with the tape left on.

From the original blank to a lovely carved surface. I used washi tape to mask the pattern and actually quite liked it with the tape left on.

To bring out the carved surface and add a little jewellery shine to the piece, I painted my piece and added gold leaf to the surface. Between you and me, I preferred the piece before it was painted, however, the deed was done and I couldn't go back!

My completed FrogCake in situ at  Light Square Gallery  in Adelaide.

My completed FrogCake in situ at Light Square Gallery in Adelaide.

A New Year, New Branding and a New Beginning

2014 was a super busy year, with a big move from Fremantle; I said goodbye to my friends and lecturing jobs then packed up my studio and moved to beautiful Adelaide, a small yet surprisingly exciting city. I settled in at my new studio at JamFactory an interesting and inspiring place to say the least.

My lovely big old studio in WA being packed up (top left) and my tiny new studio at JamFactory. It was a struggle to fit everything in but I did it!!

My lovely big old studio in WA being packed up (top left) and my tiny new studio at JamFactory. It was a struggle to fit everything in but I did it!!

This guy soon followed and has thoroughly enjoyed his daily ritual of greeting Paddy at 6am and asking whether he would like a ‘cup of coffee.’ I am not too sure whether Paddy enjoyed the wakeup calls from George.

George being creepy as usual.

George being creepy as usual.

Highlights of the year included fabulous workshops in Repousse with Nancy Megan Corwin and Korean Metal Craft with Master Cho and Kenny Son from StudioKyss as well as making friends with a bunch of crazy ladies and man at the Jam.

Samples and hand made tools from the 'Conveying Korean Metal Craft' workshop with Kenny Son and Master Cho.

Samples and hand made tools from the 'Conveying Korean Metal Craft' workshop with Kenny Son and Master Cho.

Progress shots from the  Nancy Megan Corwin  Repousse workshop as well as some Repousse earrings that I displayed at the  Zu Design  Christmas Show.

Progress shots from the Nancy Megan Corwin Repousse workshop as well as some Repousse earrings that I displayed at the Zu Design Christmas Show.

I started a part time job working on environmentally sustainable jewellery, including wedding and engagement rings at Studio Eco which just happens to be located in the best street (with the best coffee) in Adelaide, Ebenezer Place.

A new location and new skills helped me to design and make some exciting new ranges.

Learning how to weld big stuff!

Learning how to weld big stuff!

Action shots from the bench. Each little piece of metal is hand cut and soldered.

Action shots from the bench. Each little piece of metal is hand cut and soldered.

With many long days and much thought, I have also re-branded to suit my new collection with the help of fantastic graphic designer and faux auntie, Jo Collins.

Fabulous new Branding by Jo Collins

Fabulous new Branding by Jo Collins

After a long year, paddy and I decided to go on a bit of a road trip to Melbourne and had a bit of well earned rest whilst visiting places such as the creepiest koala in Australia which was definitely the highlight of my trip... not sure about paddy’s?! We also saw in the New Year right under the fireworks in the CBD which threatened to shoot debris at us until we moved down the road a bit.

Road trip with the Padsta.

Road trip with the Padsta.

Plans for 2015? I’m glad you asked. There are many things in the pipeline including some competition entries, new ranges, a trip to Sydney for the fantastic Jewellery and Metalsmiths Group of Australia Conference, as well as a studio move at the end of January. Looks like it’s going to be an exciting year!