Exploring Uncertainty

"What happens when makers eschew certainty of outcome, instead embracing chance, volatility and impermanence in their work? Wood artist Nic Webb, and silversmiths David Clarke and Hazel Thorn discuss with session chair Lottie Davies, Taylor-Wessing Prize-winning photographer and BAFTA-nominated short film artist."

The sugar crystals took 6 months to form on this silver object by David Clarke.

The sugar crystals took 6 months to form on this silver object by David Clarke.

Hazel Thorn creates her own material through fusing rods of silver and gilding metal, creating an alloy, seen as the the third green stripe.

Hazel Thorn creates her own material through fusing rods of silver and gilding metal, creating an alloy, seen as the the third green stripe.


 

This was another great event held at Collect on Friday. It invited three artist makers with different forms of using unusual and "destructive" methods to give an insight into how it can help make something new and exciting. 

 

BURNING

 

Nic Webb was pointing out the difference he found between the work he makes and other artists using natural materials like Andy Goldsworthy. Goldsworthy's work is fleeting, to be experienced but only for a time as it is left to the elements meaning that without photographs many people would never see his creations.

By making an object you see the effect of a person on a material, having some degree of control in order to leave a tangible record of their existence and ideas.

Webb likens it to the Castillo Caves where the hand of the pre-historic artist is traced in pigment for future generations to see. It is good analogy for an artist maker who harnesses the powerful, primeval force of fire to scorch out his designs.

It is this fine line between chaos and control that allows the most exciting work to be created. Our idea of beauty is often formed through the unpredictability of nature.

 

"MAKING IS A JOURNEY TO A PLACE I HAVEN'T BEEN"

Nic Webb


 

For Nic Webb his chisel is the force of the flame and his paint is the blanket of soot it creates. He says the decisions he makes are like sailing close to the wind. Go too far and you have lost the power but on riding on the edge you can control your manoeuvres and use the natural forces around you.

 

 

CUTTING 

Hazel Thorn gave a really thorough account of her making process which I really enjoyed hearing. She explained the many steps where she will make decisions on how to form her piece. Although appearing random she plans the outcome through instinct, using ongoing analysis and careful thought allowing a piece to "grow" to her design.

Hazel says how daunting a fresh sheet of silver can be, but she is able to lose that pristine preciousness through her approach where she literally cuts her material into pieces. Then it is almost like a series of repairs, each twist and turn as the material is altered is not a limitation but an opportunity she can work with.

Hazel also highlighted how important the hands on aspect of her making process is.  The incidents that occur such as when she unintentionally overheated a piece creating a new shape, means she has discovered something about her material. She can then choose whether to use this in her work having learned how to allow or deny it to happen.

 

 

DECAYING

 

 

David Clarke's work often provokes a big response. A skilled and talented silversmith with his graduate designs flying out to the V&A and Goldsmith's collections he eventually grew bored of making work he found repetitive. 

“It’s the level of perfection in silversmithing that I really moved against – the belief that you should polish every joint until the process becomes invisible,” he says. 

 

He insists on being called a silversmith rather than an artist. This recognises his understanding of this material through his working life so far devoted to learning and practising the skills to create with it. Through this he has earned the right to challenge it and push it. Like a close family member or old friend who can call you out on something you've done wrong when no-one else would dare, push you beyond your limits, and even make jokes at your expense. Just like your best buddies you both know how much you love and appreciate each other and would only ever want to bring out the best in both of you.

He goes against the conventions of a precious and revered material by fearlessly devouring or engulfing the silver using other materials, like baking it in salt or with lead. His work is a lesson to lighten up and enjoy a wonderful material for everything it is. It also serves as a memento mori reminding us of the fragility of a fleeting existence, to live life and enjoy it as it comes as we don't have the control we believe we have.

 

Advocating Craft for 2015

Building the market for collectors of contemporary craft in the North West

I was lucky enough to have attended this symposium organised by  the North West Craft Network that also coincided with the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair  in October. The symposium gathered together a group of selected curators, designers and major supporters of the creative world  to put our heads together and come up with ideas to strengthen the craft industry in the North West. The hope is to produce real results for those of us who are committed to making our living from our skills and passions. The results from the workshop have been published HERE.

Lively discussions and workshops with the curators, collectors and craft practitioners. The fantastic variety of guests at the symposium, "Building the Market for Contemporary Craft in the North West".

Lively discussions and workshops with the curators, collectors and craft practitioners. The fantastic variety of guests at the symposium, "Building the Market for Contemporary Craft in the North West".

This was a welcome chance to meet and talk as a mixed group of professionals in the creative industry. We found we each had our own experiences, sharing what we have each found either as a designer or curator or from the experienced eye of a passionate collector.

Ever since this event, my mind has been buzzing with ideas, and has even helped me to make huge changes to my own creative career.  This gathering was a great starting point to now develop on helping us to focus on making 2015 a great year for craft. Not only working hard (as we all know the long hours and sacrifices from taking an unconventional path) but working smart, meaning that our precious time is spent in the most useful ways in order to help ourselves to thrive and build up the contemporary craft industry as a whole.

Here are four points that I felt were repeated again and again in our discussions in various ways. January is shiny, new and full of promise, the perfect time to begin trying to incorporate these a bit more into our work and daily lives.

 

1) Talk to people, tell them why you do what you do and how it makes you feel. This could be you interacting as a maker selling directly or it could be to visitors to the gallery where you work or an event you volunteer at or the tweets about the exhibitions you like. This also means LISTEN to them too. Listen to the lovely compliments on your work and your efforts. What do they like about it, what is unique? What don't they like so much? Maybe they are getting the wrong idea or something important is being missed. You will only know by communicating, and this will motivate you forward.

Here I am giving a presentation at Manchester Museum, sharing my inspiration and practices. It really made me think about why and how I make what I do and the unpredictable questions which helped me reflect and learn.

Here I am giving a presentation at Manchester Museum, sharing my inspiration and practices. It really made me think about why and how I make what I do and the unpredictable questions which helped me reflect and learn.

 

2) Treat your work how you want to be treated. You have dedicated your time and energy to your creative endeavour, show it's value. Whistler made his security guards wear yellow socks and created jewellery to be worn to his shows using his signature "butterfly sting". You may not need to go this far but what is important about your work? Do you need to invest in exquisite, protective packaging to demonstrate preciousness by treating each piece as if fragile and sacred. Or maybe is it the processes you need to show or the materials? Do you need to show the timeline of how you developed a idea to prove it is the best it can be or do you need to romance us with your artistic inspiration? Other people do not know how or why you do what you do, and sometimes your finished object alone won't allow them to appreciate and value your work over other all the things competing for their attention every day. These big brands rely on expensive marketing or "bargain" prices, however you have something they do not have. Prototypes, raw materials, sketches, videos, proof of production, the magic of it's inception. You. This is your value, show it.

Bernhard Schobinger's jewellery art work is highly valued.  He chooses to create an individual container to house each piece which can tell you the story behind it, decorated with it's details and his signature. They are all intended as one complete beautiful and considered object and Schobinger says "if you lose the box you know nothing of the piece".

Bernhard Schobinger's jewellery art work is highly valued.  He chooses to create an individual container to house each piece which can tell you the story behind it, decorated with it's details and his signature. They are all intended as one complete beautiful and considered object and Schobinger says "if you lose the box you know nothing of the piece".

 

 

3) Support yourself by supporting others. Mark Twain said (the) "Best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up." Do you have a favourite designer or maker? Tell them! Tell others about them and  share the love! We are making efforts to get the public to understand and appreciate contemporary craft but maybe we need to set a better example.  We all want people to appreciate and buy good things rather than overbuying, damaging the environment or creating sweatshop conditions.

Here's my chance to show work by my super creative and wonderful friend  Natalie Laura Ellen . She puts so much of herself into her designs. I love the fact that she creates her own cosy world with her goodies, inspired by her passions like her vintage cameras, visits to horticultural shows  or the little details of her home city of Manchester where she works and produces all of her products. See her lovely shop  here  

Here's my chance to show work by my super creative and wonderful friend Natalie Laura Ellen. She puts so much of herself into her designs. I love the fact that she creates her own cosy world with her goodies, inspired by her passions like her vintage cameras, visits to horticultural shows  or the little details of her home city of Manchester where she works and produces all of her products. See her lovely shop here 

 

 

4) Let people help you. Even if you get up VERY early in the morning or go on a different course every month you may not be able to do everything you need to do by yourself. This can be hard to admit as you may have to relinquish a bit of control (if you are used to working independently) and it may mean everything is not 100% how you want it just yet. But it may free you up to get on with the most important parts that no-one else can do, or get over something that's been blocking your progress. It is usually easier to tweak what you have and build on resources than have nothing to show but grand words and ideas on how you want it to be.

 

This photograph was taken by my talented photographer friends Nikita A. Queeley Gill and  Simon Shortt  not long after I graduated. We worked together on this shoot giving me beautiful images like this one using techniques and equipment I wouldn't be able to do alone. This photo and the support of friends and family then led to me winning a fashion competition in Paris, where I saw my work on a catwalk for the first time. I don't know where I'd be without help from all of these wonderful people, so thank you all, always remembered and appreciated.      

This photograph was taken by my talented photographer friends Nikita A. Queeley Gill and Simon Shortt not long after I graduated. We worked together on this shoot giving me beautiful images like this one using techniques and equipment I wouldn't be able to do alone. This photo and the support of friends and family then led to me winning a fashion competition in Paris, where I saw my work on a catwalk for the first time. I don't know where I'd be without help from all of these wonderful people, so thank you all, always remembered and appreciated.

 

 

When I am feeling intimidated by a project or big workload I think of this quote used by Ben Barry, designer at Facebook "Done is better than perfect". There is more from this interview from 99% below;

"I have several friends that are incredibly talented. They will start on projects but rarely follow through. They get bored or distracted or discouraged that it's not "perfect" and give up. Following through and finishing things is one of the most important things you can learn.

One of my favourite quotes is "Done is better than perfect." That doesn't mean making crap – I believe you should always strive for the highest quality you can – but you have to finish. I think a lot of my friends in this situation don't realize how in-demand their skills are. I think if you follow through on projects and just put the tiniest little effort into promoting yourself and have the tiniest bit of self-confidence, you can get the job you want."

white swan backstage film, photographers.JPG

 

I think for Contemporary Craft to have a fantastic future we need to think of ourselves as a whole, banding together as the company of British Designers, each a representative of the national brand. When buying for pleasure it is easy to be swayed by the exotic, paying extra for imported rather than domestic which may mean our local artists are overlooked or undervalued. At the symposium, Professor Geoffrey Crossick, chair of the Crafts Council  brought up the point that "Craft" is fashionable, using the popularity of Craft beer as an example. Companies are utilising this self given label to great effect making a product appear wholesome, local, community based, somehow better for us. We need to think of all of these things when producing or buying our designs too; carefully crafted, artisan made, combining passion and skill and the best ingredients, a more informed, sophisticated choice.  We are lucky to have some of the most talented people right under our nose and we need to be proud of ourselves, contributing to our great industry as pioneers in art and design. The craft economy generates nearly £3.4bn for the UK economy. That's you and me, making it, promoting it and buying it. I think we deserve a bonus this year.

Giving Contemporary Crafters everywhere..."A BIG HAND".

Giving Contemporary Crafters everywhere..."A BIG HAND".

 

Making It: Building Your Craft Future. A Day for Emerging Makers at the Whitworth Art Gallery

Thurs March 5th 2015

If you are an emerging maker, this event also organised by the North West Craft Network along with Manchester Craft and ADesign Centre and The Whitworth Art Gallery, will be a great chance to meet some great people and learn form their experience of creative careers of the North West via workshops in the spectacular atmosphere of newly re-imagined Whitworth.

There are also some great ideas in "The Done Manifesto" you can read here on

Thank you so much to the Symposium organisers, the incredibly hard working North West Craft Co-ordinator; Victoria Scholes and the superb Angela Mann and Anne-Marie Franey, organisers of The Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair. They are continuing to push contemporary craft by events like these as we strive to make it as great as it really can be. My thanks also to the speakers, Jo Bloxham, James Beighton, Louise Gardener and Geoffrey Crossick for sharing their viewpoints on the podium and also to the wonderful people I met here to share our passion and enthusiasm for Contemporary craft in the North West.